Emotional and psychological trauma results from an extremely stressful event such as a physical assault, emotional or verbal abuse, a life-threatening medical condition, terrorism, or a natural disaster that causes severe disability in daily functioning resulting from that event. Helplessness, anger, fear, nightmares, confusion, memory loss, and compulsive behaviors are some of the symptoms associated with trauma. There are multiple therapeutic approaches that can be used to help alleviate the signs and symptoms associated with trauma in order for the individual to experience a healthy and successful way of living.

Overview of the treatment approaches for trauma

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) are the two proven techniques used to help treat psychological and emotional trauma in individuals. Hypnotherapy, prolonged exposure, and desensitization are also used as part of a cognitive-behavioral therapy approach to combat symptoms associated with emotional and psychological trauma. Pharmacological therapy such as antidepressants are often used to treat the co-occurring disorders associated with trauma such as depression and posttraumatic stress disorder but the first-line treatment approach for emotional and psychological trauma is psychotherapy. Regardless of the specific treatment approach, the goals of therapy are the following:

  • Prevent mental health complications from trauma such as posttraumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder and other trauma-related co-morbid conditions
  • Improve adaptive functioning and restore normal development
  • Prevent relapse
  • Assimilate the danger and triggers associated with the traumatic event into a constructive scheme of safety, prevention, and protection
  • Reduce behaviors that restrict daily life and impair functioning

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy targets the negative thoughts associated with the traumatic experience and the associated negative feelings in order to desensitize the individual to the traumatic related triggers. This technique begins by educating the individual about their symptoms and teaching them to recognize the rationale behind these symptoms. This initial cognitive process allows the individual to acknowledge the events and their symptoms and through behavioral modifications, they can work to release their irrational feelings regarding the traumatic event and replace them with more accurate and less negative thoughts. Through a series of multiple sessions, the individual is asked to imagine and describe the traumatic event and its consequences and to focus on the negative associations until they subside over time. Relaxation techniques are taught during the sessions and homework is assigned to the individual so they can practice confronting their triggers of anxiety outside their therapy sessions. Common elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy include:

  • Teaching individuals how to breathe in order to manage anxiety and stress
  • Educating individuals on normal reactions to trauma
  • Exposure therapy, a technique where the individual is exposed to the fearful traumatic trigger without any danger in order to overcome their distress
  • Roleplaying

Emotional and psychological trauma cannot only result in devastation in an individual’s daily life but when left untreated it can result in mental health disorder such as major depressive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, brief psychotic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. The anguish and frustration from the traumatic event can even lead individuals to attempt suicide. Seeking help before these co-occurring disorders and complications arise is key to living a successful and positive life.