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Trauma-Focused Therapy

What is therapy? The term is often misrepresented and stigmatized. An accurate definition of therapy is a comfortable and confidential space for a person to consult a professional about emotions and actions that are disturbing personal peace. Individuals go to therapy for various reasons, whether it was their decision or a recommendation from a professional or boss. Therapy provides an unbiased space to talk about the most internal thoughts and feelings. With that said, the role of a therapist is to support and acknowledge unfortunate situations in clients’ lives. Therapists are then able to analyze how such situations are influencing their clients’ lives and assist them in adopting ways to process such events. Therapists suggest strategies for their clients to learn to express themselves and approach situations with a more positive perspective.

What is Trauma-Focused Therapy

For some patients, the situations that have brought them to therapy are sensitive, heavy, and triggering. These clients may have had a traumatic experience that has begun to disrupt their day-to-day living. For these individuals, trauma-focused therapy will often be the chosen plan of care. Trauma-Focused Therapy is a specific approach to therapy that recognizes and emphasizes understanding how the traumatic experience impacts a client’s mental, behavioral, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. This form of therapy is based on understanding the connection between a person’s traumatic experience and their emotional and behavioral response. The goal of trauma-focused therapy is to provide skills and strategies to assist the client in understanding and coping with what happened to them. Trauma-focused therapists guide clients in processing their emotions and memories tied to the traumatic experiences. The overall aim of trauma-focused therapy is to enable the client to create a healthier perspective of the traumatic experience.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) definition of trauma-focused therapy is a program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed. Being a trauma informed program involves understanding and acknowledging the intense influence of events in individuals’ lives and empathetically working to alleviate symptoms with the goal of recovery. Additionally, establishing proper protocol in regards to talking about the trauma and other aspects of treatment accounts for the risk of retraumatization and works to prevent it from happening.

Today, there are no state or national regulations defining a “trauma-informed provider” or “trauma-informed therapist.” Although some states are currently “credentialing” or ensuring that such clinicians have the minimum education and training necessary to practice trauma-informed therapy.

Benefits of Trauma-Focused Therapy

There are many benefits to participating in trauma-focused therapy. Trauma-focused treatment helps clients gain insight into their past experiences and addresses their concerns about the future. They will learn healthier ways of coping and deal with the pressures of daily life. One benefit of engaging in this approach is learning about the human response to trauma. Participants may discover insight into past experiences, helping them to digest why certain thoughts, feelings, and behaviors might occur. Professionals specializing in trauma-focused therapy give clients the knowledge to name and explain their experiences clinically and remind them that they are not alone in their experience.

Reestablishing safety for the client is essential in trauma-focused therapy. Experiencing trauma violates your sense of safety, whether that is physical, emotional, or psychological. The goal of trauma-focused therapy is for clients to re-develop their internal sense of safety (emotional, psychological, relational) and physical sense of safety (touch and the environment). A sense of safety can be reestablished by participating in activities and discussions that incorporate aspects associated with the trauma in a comfortable and secure setting.

Another skill gained in trauma-focused therapy is the ability to identify triggers. For some client’s intense reactions seem to come out of nowhere or are out of proportion to an experience. Such reactions occur randomly because they represent trauma reminders, commonly called “triggers”. Any aspect of the traumatic experience or emotion associated with the traumatic experience can become a trigger. Fortunately, clients can combat their triggers by first recognizing them and then adapting their responses and ability to handle them throughout his or her recovery.

Importance of Trauma-Focused Therapy

Trauma-focused therapy allows patients to discover skills that can be practiced by themselves when in need and helps enhance their ways of coping to better respond to triggers and emotions associated with the traumatic event. The majority of these skills involve anxiety management and relaxation strategies. After adopting and applying these skills to individual and unique triggers, clients begin to recognize an incredible resilience in their character and can regain their confidence.

Going to trauma-focused therapy is extremely important when someone is experiencing other traumatic stress symptoms, especially any mental health symptoms associated with the trauma. This could be depression, anxiety, dissociation, trauma-related shame, or intrusive symptoms such as flashbacks or night terrors.

Trauma-focused therapy can empower patients and give them the ability to take the power back from their story and the strength to accept their experiences. Over time, therapists help clients process by re-narrating their personal experiences. They find meaning in their trauma.

Many therapists suggest special activities and strategies to use alongside the trauma-focused treatment process, based on the individual client and what works best for them. Clients will be encouraged to engage in different activities based on their age, trauma experience, geographic setting, and family environment. Therapists may suggest artistic or athletic outlets to overcome memories, emotions, or problematic behaviors associated with traumatic experiences. The activity should be approached slowly and sensitively to avoid triggering feelings. Most trauma-focused treatments are uniquely created to meet the specific needs of clients and their families.

At Boardwalk Recovery Center, we ensure our clients get the quality care they need to fully recover from their past traumas and not just from their addiction to a substance.

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