Takeaway: There are many ways to heal from trauma. And, trauma therapy can be a supportive part of your healing process. In this post, we’ll explore what trauma therapy for adults consists of, including the different types of treatment and their benefits. Learning more about treating trauma in adults can help you make an informed decision about your pathways to feeling better.
As you might know firsthand, experiencing a traumatic event can have a devastating impact on a person's life. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the word "trauma" is used to describe the emotional or psychological harm that follows a distressing event. As Gabor Maté said in the movie The Wisdom of Trauma: “trauma is what happens inside of you as a result of what has happened to you”.
It's important to understand that trauma can manifest differently from person to person. Even if two people live through the exact same traumatic event, they may have opposing experiences. Know that your experience of trauma is valid no matter what it looks like or whether other people understand it.
While trauma is a highly individual experience, it can be helpful to understand the basics of what trauma is and how it can affect someone. Remember, this isn't meant to be a one-size-fits-all depiction. Rather, this information provides a framework for you to better understand yourself (and even your loved ones) and serves as a reminder that you're not alone.
Types of trauma
Generally speaking, a traumatic event is one in which the survivor feels as though their well-being or even their life was seriously at risk. While there are certain events that are commonly seen as traumatic, there's no way to definitively say which events are traumatic and which aren't. What matters is how the person in the situation felt.
With that being said, there are different categories of traumatic events. Identifying which type of trauma you've experienced can help you better understand your experience and find recommendations for which types of trauma therapy might be best for you.
As the name suggests, a single-event trauma is a one-time event. Despite being a single event, this type of trauma can have a significant impact on a person's mental health and well-being. If you've experienced a traumatic event and are struggling to cope with it, it's important to seek support.
Again, each person's experience with trauma is different. However, there are certain events that tend to be traumatic for many people who live through them. While this isn't an exhaustive list, here are some common examples of single-event trauma:
Natural disasters, such as floods or tornadoes
Car accidents, or witnessing an accident
Acts of violence, such as sexual assault or being mugged
Death of a loved one, or the sudden end of situation (job loss, relationship)
Remember, there are many other situations that can be considered traumatic events. For example, being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness can be a profoundly traumatic event. As chronic illness counsellors in Vancouver, we see firsthand how life-altering these diagnoses can be.
While therapy can help you make sense of your experience and learn how to live in a meaningful way, it's important to first acknowledge your situation as traumatic (if you feel it is).
Complex trauma is a type of trauma that occurs repeatedly over a long period of time, often during childhood. Unlike single-event trauma, complex trauma involves ongoing and chronic exposure to traumatic events.
This type of trauma occurs most frequently as a result of childhood trauma. In this case, professionals refer to it as "developmental trauma." Since repeated trauma occurred while you were still growing, the experiences and your responses became hardwired into how your brain works.
Common examples of complex or developmental trauma include:
Emotional or psychological trauma
Exposure to domestic violence
Living in a war zone
Another important way that complex trauma differs from single-event trauma is that it often occurs within the context of a relationship, such as with a caregiver or family member. This can make it difficult for the victim to recognize the abuse or neglect as harmful and can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and self-blame.
Complex trauma can also profoundly affect a person's sense of self, as well as their ability to form healthy relationships. Survivors may struggle with trust, intimacy, and emotional regulation, and may have difficulty connecting with others.
Thankfully, therapy can help. With time, effort, and a supportive counsellor, you can learn how to shift your thought patterns, express your emotions, and develop a stronger identity to help you navigate the world with confidence.
What is post-traumatic stress disorder?
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health condition that can develop after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. Complex PTSD refers to the kind of PTSD that develops following complex trauma.
According to the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA), approximately 76% of Canadians have experienced a traumatic event during their life. However, only about 8% will develop PTSD as a result.
Experts aren't exactly clear on why some people develop PTSD symptoms and others don't. Genetics, having limited social support, and a family history of mental health issues may be a few risk factors. Regardless, PTSD can affect people of all genders, ages, socioeconomic statuses, and more.
PTSD symptoms can vary from person to person. However, there are many common symptoms that trauma survivors experience, including:
Intrusive thoughts about the event
Changes in mood
Avoiding reminders of the event
Feeling on edge
PTSD can have a significant impact on a person's daily life, relationships, and overall well-being. It can lead to feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety. It can also affect a person's ability to work, engage in social activities, or live a life that they enjoy. However, there are many effective trauma therapies that can help you heal.
A beginner's guide to trauma therapy for adults
Now that you have a deeper understanding of what trauma is and how it can affect you, we'll dive into the different types of trauma therapy.
While there is no one-size-fits-all to treating trauma in adults, understanding your options can help you decide which type of trauma therapy might be best for your needs and goals.
Types of trauma therapy
Trauma-focused therapy comes in many different forms. There are traditional talk therapy approaches, as well as alternative methods that are backed by research. Some people try more than one kind of therapy before finding what works best for them. Here are a few options to consider.
Accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy (AEDP)
This form of therapy focuses on building a strong, trusting therapeutic relationship to help trauma survivors reclaim their lives. AEDP therapists work to create a supportive environment with clients, where clients can feel safe to explore their emotions and experiences in a deep and meaningful way.
The goal of AEDP is to help clients develop a greater sense of self-awareness and emotional resilience while being held in the heart and mind of a caring other. This can lead to improved relationships, increased self-esteem, and a greater sense of overall well-being.
As trauma counsellors in Vancouver, we love this approach because it draws on the idea that all people have an innate ability to heal and grow.
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)
Cognitive processing therapy, or CPT, is a structured trauma therapy approach that typically consists of twelve sessions. It focuses on the survivor's internal stories about the traumatic event and helps them make sense of their experience in a way that feels less distressing.
In CPT, mental health clinicians help survivors identify their beliefs about the traumatic experience. For example, they might think that the event was their fault. Through intentional processing, the survivor can shift the painful beliefs that have kept them stuck.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy
Unlike traditional talk therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy uses dual attention stimulation to help people reduce their trauma-related symptoms. In this approach, mental health professionals use stimuli such as eye movements, sounds, or handheld buzzers to reprocess specific targets of their clients’ traumatic memories.
Once the memory has been reprocessed in EMDR therapy, many people experience a reduction in their mental health symptoms. They might feel less distressed when confronted with a reminder of the event or feel more relaxed in their day-to-day life.
There are many other types of trauma therapy that can help you along your healing journey. Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), internal family systems therapy (IFS), and prolonged exposure therapy (PE) are just a few examples of other approaches to trauma treatment.
It's important to remember that you don't necessarily need a diagnosis of PTSD, or other trauma-related disorders (like acute stress disorder) to benefit from a trauma-informed therapy approach. As we discussed, many people experience trauma but might not have the exact symptoms that constitute PTSD. Regardless, you deserve support.
Benefits of trauma therapy
Just as everyone's experience with trauma is unique, people may have different outcomes from trauma therapy. With that being said, there are many ways that trauma-focused therapy can help survivors feel better. Here are just a few.
Gain insight into your emotions
Trauma therapy can offer supportive environment where individuals can safely explore their feelings related to their trauma. It can feel scary to feel your emotions. Once you and your trauma counsellor build a trusting relationship, you might feel supported to discuss whatever emotions come up for you. This can feel incredibly validating and empowering, especially if you haven't received this kind of emotional support before.
Reduce symptoms of PTSD
Therapy can also help ease the distressing, uncomfortable symptoms that can follow traumatic experiences. Your traumatic memories might feel less intense, and you might feel more relaxed, which can also help you sleep better. Plus, you can learn new ways of managing your symptoms more effectively.
Develop a sense of safety
At its core, trauma threatens our sense of safety and belonging. Trauma counselling aims to rebuild these. Your trauma therapist will help you rebuild a sense of safety in your own body and begin to trust yourself and the people around you again.
Shift unhealthy behavior patterns
Experiencing trauma can cause a person to engage in certain coping behaviors, such as substance abuse, binge eating, or isolating from family and friends. While these behaviors help us feel better in the moment, they can also hurt us in the long run. Trauma therapy can help you find new coping skills that are safer and more effective.
Trauma therapy can help you find the change you've been looking for.
Our Vancouver counsellors are here to help you find resilience after trauma. We take a collaborative approach to trauma therapy for adults in order to meet you where you're at and help you get the most out of your counselling sessions. Reach out today to get started!
Founder and Counsellor