Traumatic experiences are an unfortunately common part of life. It is estimated that at least half of all people will experience one or more traumatic events, and many among them will experience several. On the other hand, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), another type of mental health disorder, is a bit rarer, occurring in only about 3.6 percent of people. However, regardless of which, treatment for trauma or PTSD can be beneficial.
A traumatic experience does not always necessitate a response in kind. Natural reactions to trauma – such as grief, pain, anger, or sorrow – are still natural and passing. People lose their homes, lose their loved ones, or experience some other horrific event, and it leaves them devastated for a time. But PTSD is different. It sticks with you in a debilitating and impairing way.
Nevertheless, some people seek treatment for trauma, even if they are not experiencing symptoms of PTSD. It is entirely valid to seek counseling after trauma to avoid the onset of PTSD or to learn how to cope with a harrowing experience in a better way.
Like any other wound, trauma must heal. And like some wounds do, trauma can heal improperly or ineffectively. Treatment for trauma can help prevent cases of PTSD, while treatments for PTSD try to address all the ways in which trauma leaves a lasting wound, both psychologically and neurologically.
How Does Treatment for Trauma or PTSD Work?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is characterized by dysfunctional symptoms of avoidance, intrusive thinking, negative or depressive behavior, impulsivity, and hypervigilance. Each of these symptoms affects the way a person feels, thinks, behaves, and talks.
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), these symptoms make up the criterion of a PTSD diagnosis, along with duration (at least a month or longer), functional impairment (struggling at home, socially, at work, or at school), and exclusion criterion (ensuring that the symptoms cannot be explained by a different condition or circumstance).
PTSD can be considered the result of the effects of trauma on some people’s brains, as it causes a sort of “loop” centered around the traumatic event, as well as a state of constant vigilance or alertness. Many people who experience PTSD feel as though they cannot escape the past, and even the smallest reminders may be enough to send them into a state of fight-or-flight.
While there may have been many names for similar syndromes throughout time, PTSD was not officially considered a disorder in the psychiatric community until 1980. Since then, an important part of the diagnosis of PTSD was the offending event and its severity. In the DSM-V, the latest diagnostic manual, this is called the “stressor criterion.”
Trauma came to be defined as anything outside the “normal” human experience, including murder, rape, war, torture, genocide, industrial accidents, vehicular deaths, and natural disasters. A clear distinction was made between PTSD and syndromes resulting from other non-traumatic stressors, such as the natural death of a loved one or divorce.
We have since learned that trauma is as subjective as pain, but we still generally make a distinction between traumatic events (resulting in PTSD) and non-traumatic events (potentially resulting in “complex grief” or “adjustment disorders”).
Treatments for PTSD differ from case to case. One client’s best treatment may not be as effective for another. However, as with most mental health issues, talk therapy or psychotherapy remains the golden standard.
1. Individual Talk Therapy
Talk therapy or psychotherapy is the most common first-line treatment for conditions such as generalized anxiety, major depressive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, clients undergoing talk therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder may experience different protocols than those for anxiety or depression.
For starters, many therapists still utilize dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help address clients with traumatic experiences.
DBT specializes in helping individuals recognize and address the contradictions in their thought processes and eliminate examples of mental gymnastics. It can also help in reconciling reality with what one thinks, especially in cases of extreme dysphoria or psychosis. CBT, on the other hand, centers around identifying and replacing needlessly negative thoughts and behavior for healthier, truthful associations, better coping skills, and learning to recognize signs of self-doubt, anxiety, and depressive thought.
But therapists may also use specialized talk therapy methods when it comes to treatment for trauma.
2. Cognitive Processing Therapy
Cognitive processing therapy is an example of a talk therapy protocol established largely to address PTSD. In this therapy model, a client works with their therapist to identify ways in which their trauma affects their thought processes and internal logic.
Taking a cognitive approach to the way trauma has changed them, learning to identify and ignore or silence intrusive or “automatic” thoughts, and learning to re-establish a greater measure of control.
3. Exposure Therapy
In addition, to talk therapy, therapists may also use exposure therapy to help clients retrain their own reactions to certain triggers. The idea behind exposure therapy is to learn to curb and control your reaction to stressors associated with your trauma and unlearn extreme avoidance behavior associated with PTSD.
Another form of exposure therapy often used in the treatment of PTSD is narrative exposure therapy. In narrative exposure therapy, clients and therapists use the safe environment of a therapeutic setting to carefully explore the timeline of the trauma, retrace steps, recreate memories, and process them in a healthier way without immediate reaction.
Whereas CPT counts as cognitive therapy, exposure therapy is entirely behavioral therapy. It focuses on how a person reacts rather than what they think or feel.
4. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
An unconventional treatment on paper, EMDR focuses on exposure therapy with the aid of a special technique that helps reduce a client’s awareness and focus on the traumatic experience through eye tracking. In EMDR treatment sessions, a trained specialist will ask a client to follow an object with their eyes while discussing their trauma.
A subset of EMDR focused on the idea that trauma might be located in specific parts of the brain, much like an actual wound, brainspotting was developed based on the idea that focusing on a certain angle with a person’s vision could help elicit a greater therapeutic effect than normal EMDR.
Brainspotting specialists work with clients to find that spot in their cone of vision where they can make greater progress than through EMDR.
6. Somatic Therapy
Somatic therapy incorporates other physical movements into typical CBT or CPT talk therapy, such as dance, meditation, or breathing exercises. The idea is that additional physical work can help relieve stress and help clients delve deeper into their trauma. This is usually called somatic experiencing therapy.
7. Medications for PTSD
While there are no drug treatments specifically for PTSD, some medications are prescribed as off-label drugs for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, particularly in clients who struggle with negative thinking. However, medications do very little to treat the symptoms of PTSD itself. Most of the work done in treating PTSD comes through one-on-one talk therapy.
Get Treatment for Trauma and PTSD
Find help today and get treatment for trauma or PTSD when you contact Amend Treatment in Malibu.
Our professional team can provide you with specialized residential care, ready to support you every step of the way.