Professional Therapies

In this guide, we will discuss different professional therapies for trauma recovery, so you can consider whether one of these services might be appropriate for you. There are many different kinds of psychological therapy for trauma, so this is not an exhaustive list, but rather a guide that you can use to look into different options. 

Firstly, a note on the importance of finding a therapist with whom you can establish a good therapeutic relationship. For some people, there may be a worry that a therapist might ask us to do activities or remember things that are too painful. We’d like to remind anyone considering therapy that our therapist is meant to be an ally and not someone pushing us towards anything unsafe - or exposing us to things we aren’t ready for. There is a difference between the discomfort we feel when we challenge ourselves (which comes from a place of growth) and harm. We do not have to hurt ourselves to get well. 

So, in seeking out a treatment provider, remember that you are the client. You get to decide when you find a therapist who works best to address your needs. 

The therapeutic relationship should allow for communicating if we feel uncomfortable, or not ready to discuss our traumatic experiences. It’s important to remember that the therapeutic relationship, as with any other relationship, can sometimes not work; this does not reflect on us as the client -  we haven't done anything wrong! It also doesn’t necessarily mean that the therapist isn’t a good one, or that we need to give up on therapy altogether. It might just mean that this wasn’t the right therapist for us and we need to look for someone we feel more comfortable with.

So, here are a few different kinds of therapy and therapeutic approaches for you to consider in your trauma recovery.

Talking Therapy with a psychologist trained in trauma support

Through talking therapy, psychologists often try to help people use insight to understand their past experiences, and use this insight to manage their present behavior. The reason that finding a psychologist with training in trauma support is important is that insight alone - or knowing why what’s happening is happening - isn’t always enough to shut off the fear response that is triggered by trauma. The aim in healing our traumatic symptoms is to be able to recognise what is an internal danger signal arising from past experiences, learn how to attend to it without becoming overwhelmed, and ultimately teach our body that it is safe. We want to restore the balance between our brain and our body to live a full and balanced life. For more tips on how to restore this balance with everyday methods, head to our ‘At-Home Trauma Recovery Tools’ learning page. 

This process of restabilising our body’s fear response is why it can be helpful to find a trauma-informed therapist or professional to work with, if you choose to. But everyone is different - so if you do choose to see a psychologist, find the one that is right for you.

Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps us deal with symptoms by making changes to how we think and act. It can be done individually, in a classic therapy setting - with the client on the couch speaking with the therapist in the chair nearby - but it can also be done in groups. 

CBT is where we talk through our experiences with a professional who helps us make links between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. CBT targets current symptoms and problems, and the client works as a team with the therapist to identify unhelpful patterns in the thoughts and feelings related to the trauma, including any "stuck points." Stuck points are certain thoughts related to the trauma that are preventing our recovery, like situations and feelings that we avoid. These might be thoughts, sensations, or even parts of our body that we’ve disconnected from in trying to protect ourselves from the way that part of our body was related to our trauma.

The goal of CBT is to help us understand how our thought processes might be irrational, and how they may be related to negative coping mechanisms or negative personal beliefs. Ultimately, we’re working to gain a greater sense of control over these thoughts and behaviors, and feel new hope for the future.

Exposure Therapy

Another type of therapy that can be used for trauma recovery is called exposure therapy’. Exposure therapy is where we expose ourselves to things that make us frightened or start the stress response, like ‘triggers’ that are related to the original trauma. If it’s done in a fear hierarchy, the client slowly works through levels of exposure as they feel comfortable, and as guided by the therapist. 

While this process may sound intimidating, exposure therapy isn’t ‘diving into the deep end’. The exposure can also be ‘imagined’ during talk therapy, through small steps, as well as done with a group. And we don’t have to do it alone. In the same way that PTSD and triggers can make us feel like we are reliving the past, therapy is a tool through which we can re-expose ourselves to what hurt us, whether in conversation, imagination, or in community. Through this exposure, we learn that the experience will not always be fatal, and that we can get out of the cycle of fear and re-traumatisation. There is hope.

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Related to exposure therapy, we have ‘eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing’ (MDREMDR involves thinking about our trauma, while at the same time the therapist helps stimulate both parts of your brain by making us tap our knees or follow an object with our eyes. 

This bilateral stimulation - through these rapid eye movements or repetitive actions - is intended to create a similar effect to the way our brain processes memories and experiences while we’re sleeping. It is believed that EMDR helps with reintegrating the sensory aspects of the memory - sound, sight, smell, touch - and therefore the reprocessing of a traumatic memory, without the brain’s attentional, emotional, and sensory mechanisms becoming too overwhelmed. Ultimately, the goal is to give the survivor agency over the traumatic memory. This method often involves less discussion of the traumatic event than talking therapy, so it can work well for people who find it very difficult to talk about their feelings or memories.

Reparenting

For complex-PTSD - which is a trauma response developed after prolonged exposure to a traumatic situation in which there was no certain means of escape - there are also specific therapeutic frameworks that some survivors have found useful, such as reparenting. Reparenting is a technique that some therapists use with people who grew up with dysfunctional or abusive parents who did not meet their child’s needs for love, respect, and protection. During reparenting, the therapist initially assumes the role of the ‘parent’, as it were, in affirming the child’s needs that were not originally met, and eventually hands this over to the survivor to ‘self-parent’ their inner child. It’s a process of recognising how the inner child of a survivor may still be hurt, and allowing them the space to meet their own needs.

So, that was a very brief introduction to some of the psychological trauma therapies that some survivors have found useful for PTSD and recovering from trauma. These therapies were: 

You can also speak to your therapist about PTSD support groups to share your thoughts with others who understand what you are going through, to share tips (like in Bloom!), to validate your experiences, and to remind you that you are never alone in your recovery.

There are also a number of complementary treatments to consider alongside psychological therapies, that can help with decreasing the effects of triggers, flashbacks, and panic, and with increasing relaxation. 

Medication: a treatment that some survivors have found helpful is medication. Although there are no medications that have been specifically designed to treat PTSD, there are a variety of verified, established medications used to treat other mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety that can be helpful in managing PTSD symptoms. If you are interested in using medication to manage PTSD, this is something you can discuss with your doctor. 

Yin yoga or trauma-sensitive yoga:
this type of yoga focuses on more gentle movements and less hands-on adjustment. There is a special focus on attending to any uncomfortable sensations in the body that might be associated with a traumatic memory.

Acupuncture:
approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as an effective complementary treatment for PTSD, studies have shown acupuncture to be safe, and effective for many people in reducing stress.