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 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 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:
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.
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 overtime. Relaxation techniques are taught during the sessions and homework is assigned so the individual so they can practice confronting their triggers of anxiety outside their therapy sessions. Common elements of cognitive behavioral therapy include:
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is an eight-phase treatment technique that is used by therapists and 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 their mind and use their eyes to then track the therapist’s hand as it moves horizontally back and forth across the individual’s field of vision. This rapid eye movement approach allows internal associations to form and the individual can then process the memories and disturbing feelings onto an emotional level where empowerment and strength replaces the fear and anger. Instead of being fearful of the past event or it’s associated trigger 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, the present triggers and emotions associated with this past experience and the development of skills and thought processes needed to combat these negative feelings in the future and prevent these actions from occurring again.
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.