Trauma - What does treatment involve?
There are various types of traumatic events. Some of the most common include, being subjected to, witnessing or being threatened with physical or sexual violence, being in a natural disaster, and being in an accident in which you and/or another individual’s life was endangered.
The traumatic event you experienced may have occurred recently, or many years ago. Either way, it can lead to enduring and debilitating symptoms. These symptoms may cause you significant distress and interfere with your ability to engage in and enjoy various aspects of your life (work, friendships, relationships, hobbies etc.).
Symptoms of trauma/ PTSD
There is a wide range of symptoms that can stem from experiencing a traumatic event. These include hypervigilence (being easily startled, and feeling “on edge”), a desire to avoid certain places, people or activities, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, difficulty concentrating, and feeling irritable or numb. Whilst several symptoms are common for those who have experienced a traumatic event, it should be noted that symptoms vary between individuals, and so you may have experienced some, none or all of these, alongside others not listed here.
A traumatic experience can lead to the development of mental health problems. These include (but are not limited to) depression, anxiety (including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; PTSD) and drug and alcohol use disorders. Meeting the criteria for a mental health disorder is not a requirement for you to benefit from attending counselling. Counselling/ psychological therapy can assist you in addressing whatever adverse effects you identify.
In addition to each individual’s experience and symptoms of trauma/ PTSD varying, the path of recovery also varies. For this reason, it is important to engage in counselling that is tailored to your individual needs. In choosing to attend counselling to address the effects of a traumatic event, you do not need to revisit the traumatic memories. Whilst doing so can be useful for some clients, it is not a requirement for counselling to be beneficial. Your psychologist will invite you discuss any concerns of addressing the trauma, collaborate with you in developing a treatment plan, and assist you in developing coping mechanisms, as well as insight, whilst working to alleviate the symptoms of the trauma.
Specific Therapeutic Approaches for Trauma
Several therapeutic approaches have been found to be effective in treating trauma/ PTSD. Some of the most effective include:
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing): In EMDR, whilst clients are asked to recall the traumatic memory, they are not required to provide the psychologist with a detailed account of the event. In EMDR, the therapist uses a technique to guide the client's eye movements whilst they remember salient memories, to assist in processing the memory and detach the emotion they have associated with it. Clients often report choosing EMDR over exposure therapy (see below), as they can find it less distressing.
Exposure Therapy (a CBT approach): This involves the psychologist supporting the client whilst they revisit the traumatic event, by vividly imagining it and describing the various sensory experiences connected to it. This allows for the trauma memory to be processed in a way that leads to the fear/ distress associated with it to gradually diminish.
For clients who are not suited to the above methods, their psychologist can assist them to develop management techniques to deal with the distress they experience as a result of experiencing a trauma. Further to this, counselling can assist them to understand/ process the emotions they are experiencing as a result of the trauma (for example, anxiety/ fear, grief, anger) and develop ways of dealing with challenges they encounter in life as a result of the trauma (for example, managing their relationships).