Perhaps more than any time in modern history, we are talking about mental health—with our families, friends, and even at work.
From headlines about professional athletes needing time for their mental health to the far-reaching effects of the pandemic on how we're feeling about our world today, rarely have we ever spoken so openly with others about how we're feeling.
Statistics about trauma in the United States
In the United States, about 70% of adults have experienced some kind of traumatic event. That's over 220 million people.
Trauma can have many causes, including abuse, violence, medical experiences, grief, accidents, cultural trauma, and more.
Many times, trauma leads to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a severe, often lasting reaction to a traumatic event. Many think of PTSD as something related to war or physical violence.
In the United States, PTSD is more common in women than men, and about 1 in 13 people will develop PTSD in their lifetime.
The effects of trauma can go far beyond someone's mental health. It can cause substance abuse, physical health issues, anxiety, shame, depression, and even dramatically alter how someone experiences the world.
How therapy can help with trauma
To learn more about how therapists can help their clients heal from trauma and move forward with their lives, I reached out to therapists and asked them to share how trauma therapy helps survivors move forward.
A place to process what happened
When people experience a traumatic event, it often happens without warning. Many times, people's minds aren't able to process what is happening in that moment.
Multiple therapists explained how important it is to process the trauma that happened so that clients can work on moving forward and rebuilding themselves and their relationships.
"[Therapy] gives people an opportunity to process thoughts and feelings they could not digest at the time of the event. Talking in therapy provides people with the chance to feel seen, heard and believed. People going to trauma therapy often go on to rebuilding trust in themselves and others, giving them hope that they can live beyond horrors from their past," said Shari Botwin, a trauma therapist in New Jersey and author of Thriving After Trauma.
Jason Drake of Katy Teen and Family Counseling in Texas explained, "The emotions and physiological response around trauma get 'stuck' in the fear network in our brain. Because the emotions and physiological impacts of trauma aren't processed, it can cause someone to repeat unhealthy relationship patterns. This can create a cycle of moving from one unhealthy relationship to another. Trauma therapy can help that 'stuck' trauma be processed and increase the feeling of safety in relationships, improving the quality of relationships in that person's life."
Better understanding and well-being
Trauma can manifest in many different ways. Therapists shared how creating better understanding and awareness of how trauma affects survivors can help them work through trauma in various contexts.
Myriame Lyons, a therapist in Vancouver, BC explained the importance of understanding that "certain responses to trauma (hypervigilance, criticism, overeating) are automatic and your body’s way of protecting itself. Knowing you can shift out of the automatic stress response, and into the ability to regulate, soothe and calm yourself is powerful."
When clients have more knowledge, they're also able to feel empowered after therapy. "Survivors will know how to better regulate their emotions and will feel empowered by addressing their triggers, which allows them to move forward with their lives and not be held hostage to the trauma," said Sue English of English Meadows Counseling Services in Illinois.
Therapist Cameron Murphey said, "Because survivors often feel unsafe in their own bodies, trauma therapy helps survivors to learn to see their bodies as a safe haven, rather than a place of danger."
Similar to the importance of processing trauma, these therapists shared how improved understanding of how someone experiences trauma can help clients feel safer and more in control of their emotions.
Improve relationships and quality of life
While trauma therapy can help a client process internally, therapists also mentioned the importance of developing skills that make a difference in their everyday lives.
Dr. Avigail Lev of Bay Area CBT Center said, "Trauma therapy can help you distinguish between trustworthy and toxic people so that you are not continuing to get into relationships with abusive and toxic people... Trauma therapy can provide you with assertiveness skills that can help you get your needs met in relationships and create self-care consequences."
And while it's important for clients to move forward from their past, therapy can also help people live a better life today.
"Those who have suffered trauma may live trapped in that experience. Trauma therapy aims not only to help a person move through their past trauma but live a full and happy life in the present," said Sarah Epstein, a therapist in Dallas.
Effective ways to treat trauma
There are many different ways to treat trauma, but the most commonly mentioned methodology was Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), known as one of the most effective ways to treat trauma and PTSD.
Leah Aguirre, a therapist in the greater San Diego area, said, "EMDR specifically works to reduce and clear the emotional charge associated to a specific traumatic memory and help individuals connect to more positive and adaptive beliefs that are related to the event. I have found this modality incredibly beneficial and provide so much relief in the clients that I see in my practice."
While many therapists mentioned EMDR for trauma therapy, therapist Shari Botwin also shared, "Everyone deals with trauma differently and what works for one person may not work for the next person. Different strategies related to self-care help patients work through their experiences while keeping themselves safe."
The effects of trauma and therapy are different for each person and circumstance, and while EMDR was often mentioned by therapists, it's important for clients to find what works best for them.
Getting started with a trauma therapist
If you're one of the millions of Americans have have experienced trauma, you're not alone. Trauma and PTSD can happen to anyone. About 15 million American adults experience PTSD every year.
If you're starting therapy for the first time or meeting with a new therapist, make sure to ask them the right questions before getting started with therapy.
By meeting with a trained trauma therapist, you can learn to process and understand your trauma and develop skills that improve your life and help you live in the present, instead of your past.