How Long Does Trauma Therapy Take?
Takeaway: If you're considering trauma therapy, you may be wondering how long the process will take. While there is no one-size-fits-all way to approach trauma therapy, there are common factors that can influence how long it takes to recover. In this blog post, we explore the factors that can affect the length of treatment and provide some insights into what you can expect.
As you might already know firsthand, recovering from trauma can be a slow and gradual process. However, it is possible. With the right kind of support, you can heal from old wounds and get unstuck from patterns that keep you in a triggered state.
Accessing trauma therapy can be a helpful service in your healing process. By working with a therapist, you can better understand your experience and learn how to manage difficult emotions. As trauma therapists who have come alongside many people’s trauma recovery journeys, we know that this can feel daunting or overwhelming, especially if you're not sure what to expect.
Here, we'll review the basics of trauma and the different types of support available. We'll also explore the factors that can influence how long therapy takes for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) so you can get a better sense of how the process might go.
Let's dive in.
What is trauma?
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), trauma refers to the emotional reaction that can come after surviving a terrible experience or event.
And perhaps another way of understanding trauma, as suggested by Gabor Maté, is that trauma is what happens inside of us as a result of what has happened to us. In the face of an overwhelming threat, a traumatic response can occur when we are left alone in this experience and don’t know how to deal with it.
While each person's experience is different, experts tend to agree that there are two main types of trauma: single-event trauma and chronic or complex trauma. It's also possible to experience both types of trauma. Here are just a few examples of the difference between the two:
Single event trauma
Death of a loved one
Being mugged, robbed, attacked, or assaulted
Being diagnosed with a life-threatening or chronic illness
Experiencing a sudden financial setback
Ongoing childhood trauma (neglect, criticism, physical violence, etc.)
Repeated abuse or assault
Survivors of human trafficking
Signs you might have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can occur after a traumatic event. People sometimes experience symptoms right away, while others have a delayed response to the traumatic event.
It's important to remember that while many people develop PTSD symptoms from the types of events listed above, not everyone will. Experts aren't exactly sure why, but certain risk factors may make some people more susceptible than others.
Common symptoms of PTSD include:
Flashbacks or nightmares of the event(s)
Feeling like you're reliving the event(s)
Avoiding reminders of the event(s)
Feeling anxious or on edge
Withdrawing from loved ones
Feeling numb or detached
Being easily startled
Feelings of guilt and shame
Only a trained mental health professional can diagnose PTSD, so it's best to seek trauma counselling if you're struggling with any of these symptoms. Remember, your experience is also valid whether or not you meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. You deserve support either way.
Types of trauma treatment
There are many effective ways to treat trauma. Since each person is different, therapists should involve their psychotherapy clients in the treatment planning process. While your therapist will provide more information about their unique approach, here are a few of the methods used to help people recover from trauma.
Accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy (AEDP)
AEDP is an emotions- and relational- focused approach to treating trauma. In AEDP, your counsellor will accompany you in building safety and connection while teaching you helpful ways of being with the intense emotions that come from surviving traumatic events.
Creating a supportive therapeutic relationship is one of the main goals of this approach. This relational approach to therapy helps to undo the aloneness that you might have felt at the time of the traumatic experience, and expands feelings of connection with another (like your counsellor) and yourself in order to experience a sense of deep support and transformation within yourself.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy
EMDR therapy is a treatment that's different from traditional talk therapy. It involves focusing on a traumatic memory while engaging in dual attention stimuli, such as eye movements or tapping, to reprocess the memory. Like a laser beam, EMDR therapy focuses on the unhelpful parts of the traumatic memory and helps to create movement out of the client's stuckness and into a more helpful experience of the self.
While EMDR therapy is often used to treat trauma, it can also be used to help people with other mental illnesses. Some studies show that people with generalized anxiety experience significant improvement with EMDR therapy.
Internal family systems (IFS) therapy
Internal family systems (IFS) therapy is another evidence-based treatment for trauma. IFS is based on the idea that each person has different "parts." These parts can sometimes be in conflict. For example, you might have part of you that feels compassionate toward yourself while another part still feels like your traumatic experience was your fault.
The goal of IFS is to bring these parts together in harmony. IFS practitioners believe that all parts are welcome, even if they feel difficult to deal with. By embracing all parts of yourself, you may experience more self-acceptance in your everyday life.
Other types of trauma treatment
There are many different ways to help heal from a traumatic experience. Some therapists use only one approach, while others use a combination to meet your individual needs and preferences. Other approaches for treating PTSD symptoms include somatic experiencing, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), and prolonged exposure therapy (PE).
How long does therapy take for PTSD?
While these treatments (and more) are all effective in treating PTSD symptoms, each person's experience is different. Some people see improvement from just a few sessions while others might benefit from months or even years of treatment. For many people, healing from trauma is a lifelong journey.
With that being said, there are many factors that can help you get a sense of how long trauma therapy might take for you. Here are just a few.
Type of trauma experience
The type of trauma you've experienced may play a role in your recovery journey. While each person is unique, there may be differences in healing from single-event trauma vs. complex trauma.
More research is needed to understand complex trauma, but some studies suggest that chronic trauma has a more significant impact on a person's overall functioning and even personality. This may make the healing journey longer and more intensive. And still doable!
Different treatment methods can also influence how long trauma therapy takes. Some approaches are more structured and have a set number of sessions while others are more open-ended.
For example, cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a structured form of trauma therapy that is usually delivered over the course of 12 sessions. Similarly, recent research results in AEDP have shown the efficacy of 16 sessions.
Relationship with your therapist
In most types of therapy, the relationship between therapists and trauma patients is a key part of the recovery process. Developing a strong connection can help facilitate healing and growth.
However, this can be easier said than done for some people. Acutely traumatized individuals may have the capacity to bond with their therapist. Survivors of chronic trauma may take longer to feel safe opening up to their counsellor. Don't force yourself into anything; remain curious!
Your specific goals
While many clients go to therapy to feel better overall, your specific goals can also influence how long trauma therapy takes. Some goals can be accomplished sooner than others.
For example, your goal may be to learn new coping skills. This goal can likely be accomplished fairly quickly, especially if you're dedicated to practicing outside of sessions. On the other hand, a goal of shifting negative thoughts and feelings about an event that happened many years ago may take more time.
Aside from factors related to your experience and to therapy itself, there are plenty of logistical barriers that can impact the length of treatment.
Financial issues, transportation challenges, and work schedules are just a few examples of factors that can make it difficult to attend sessions consistently. While they aren't your fault, they can affect the recovery process.
Trauma counselling can help you regain your resilience.
Each person's recovery journey is unique. It can take time for you to feel safe enough to start the healing process, and that's okay. There is no "right" way to recover from trauma. The important part is knowing that you deserve support in this process.
At Myriame Lyons Counselling and Consulting, we know that there is no one-size-fits-all way to heal. We take a collaborative approach to trauma counselling in Vancouver so you can have a therapy experience that's tailored to your needs, strengths, and goals. Together, we'll build a treatment plan that's right for you.
Our team of therapists are passionate about cultivating a safe, trauma-informed space that fosters healing and connection. Reach out today to learn more about what we do and how we can help.
Founder and Counsellor