What is Trauma?
Emotional and psychological trauma results from an extremely stressful event that causes severe disability in daily functioning. This may include events such as a physical assault, emotional or verbal abuse, a life-threatening medical condition, an act of terror, or a natural disaster. Feelings of 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.
Warning Signs & Risks
Emotional and psychological trauma can not only result in devastation in an individual’s daily life, but when left untreated it can result in mental health disorders, 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.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) are two proven techniques frequently used to help treat psychological and emotional trauma in individuals. Hypnotherapy, prolonged exposure, and desensitization are also used as part of cognitive behavioral therapy approaches 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 post-traumatic stress disorder. However, the first-line treatment approach for emotional and psychological trauma is psychotherapy. Regardless of the specific treatment, the goals of therapy are the following:
- Prevent mental health complications from trauma, such as post-traumatic 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
Trauma Treatment Approaches
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 trauma-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, work to release irrational feelings regarding the traumatic event. These can then be replaced 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 overtime. 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:
- Exposure therapy, a technique where the individual is exposed to the fearful traumatic trigger without any danger in order to overcome their distress
- Role playing
- Teaching individuals how to breathe in order to manage anxiety and stress
- Educating individuals on normal reactions to trauma
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is an eight-phase treatment technique that is used by therapists. EMDR includes brief, interrupted exposures to the traumatic event, eye movement tracking, and recall of feelings and emotions associated with the traumatic event. The therapist determines which traumatic memory to trigger first and asks the individual to hold this specific memory and associated symptoms in mind. The individual visually tracks the therapist’s hand as it moves horizontally back and forth across the individual’s field of vision. This rapid eye movement approach allows new internal associations to form so the individual can process memories and disturbing feelings on an emotional level where empowerment and strength replace the fear and anger. Instead of feeling unease or fear of the past event, the individual will feel a sense of strength for overcoming such a traumatic event. The opened emotional wound is transformed into a scar of strength.
EMDR therapy includes focusing on the past traumatic experience, its present-day triggers, and its associated emotions. It helps you develop the skills and thought processes needed to combat these negative feelings in the future to help prevent these actions from occurring again.
We’re Here For You
If you or someone you know is struggling, we’re here for you. Discovery Mood and Anxiety Program specializes in treatment for mental health, substance abuse, and dual diagnoses, by creating unique programs to help every individual find their way to recovery. For more information, resources, or to consult with one of our specialists, call 714.828.0808.