Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Trauma, Part Two: Therapy and Helping the Trauma Survivor

Yesterday I wrote about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I described the symptoms, and how some of them may appear.  Today I am writing about some of the different treatment modalities for PTSD.  This list is not meant to be exhaustive.  I always encourage you to work with your mental health professional to decide what will best help you in your situation.  This entry may also be useful to someone with a loved one who has experienced trauma.    
In an earlier entry about finding a mental health professional, I mentioned that it is not uncommon for a therapist to want a new patient to see a medical doctor, if they have not seen one recently.  The therapist may also want to refer a client to a psychiatrist for a medication evaluation.  If you go to see a therapist to deal with trauma specifically, this may still be the case.  Certain antidepressants may help with symptoms of anxiety.  This can help reduce symptoms to a more manageable level while they are getting therapy.  It all works together.  Therapy for trauma may be more effective while the patient is on antidepressants, and the antidepressants will help the patient get more out of the therapy for the trauma.  There are several different methods of therapy that are effective for helping a person deal with trauma.  Here are descriptions of some of these methods.  Your mental health professional will work with you to find the best treatment for your specific situation.  This list and the accompanying descriptions are not meant to be exhaustive:
Exposure Therapy - Exposure Therapy involves recalling the traumatic experience and, things associated with it, repeatedly.  While this may sound frightening, the goal is to help the patient be able to remember the event without experiencing PTSD symptoms.  This is often done by having the patient describe the event to the therapist multiple times, over a period of time.  This helps the survivor to lessen the avoidance of reminders of the trauma by making them feel less sensitive to them.  Think of it this way: the first time you watch a scary movie, you jump out of your skin when the killer jumps out at the unsuspecting victim.  Then next time you watch it, the scene may still be suspenseful, even scary, but it loses some of the shock value.  Every time you watch that scene, it gets a little less frightening.  It’s the same concept with exposure therapy.  Talking about the experience multiple desensitizes you to it, until you get to the point you can go make more popcorn during that scene.
Cognitive Therapy - During Cognitive Therapy, the therapist will work with the client to help change the thoughts about the traumatic event to make them less distressing.  The client learns to identify the thoughts which are upsetting, and begins to change their perspective.  An example may be that a person may experience guilt for not fighting off an attacker during a mugging.  However, during cognitive therapy, the focus will be placed on the fact that attempting to fight the attacker, the client may have been stabbed, since the attacker had a knife.  The therapist will work with the client to focus on the fact that they were not harmed physically during the mugging, instead of focusing on the guilt of not fighting back.
Group Therapy - Some trauma survivors benefit from group therapy.  Group therapy is designed to bring people together who have had a similar experience.  Trauma survivors may feel alone in their victimization.  This may foster feelings of shame, which make healing more difficult.  Group therapy allows survivors to talk about their experiences with a therapist as a facilitator.  Sharing with one another helps to reduce isolation.  It can also facilitate hope as survivors see others recovering after a similar experience.  Group therapy may also be used with a group of people who have all experienced the same traumatic event.
Brief Therapy - Brief therapy uses a set number of sessions, usually between 4 and 8.  A specific goal is established, and the sessions are used to move the client toward that goal.  Brief Therapy will often use some of the same principles of Cognitive Therapy.  The focus will be on the stated goal, and how to get the client to that goal.  
EMDR and Hypnosis - EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and hypnosis are sometimes used in trauma recovery.  According to the EMDR Institute Inc (, the purpose of the treatment is to help the brain to process information about the trauma, and move toward healing. Hypnotherapy is sometimes used to help the client have controlled access to the memory of the event.  Through this process, they are able to recall the event, but the memory will be less distressing.  EMDR and Hypnotherapy should only be attempted with a professional who is certified in the particular method.  
If someone you love has experienced trauma, it can make you feel powerless.  It’s hard to see someone go through an event, and then continue to experience symptoms.  Remember that you are only one person, and there is only so much you can do.  You may be able to help them meet day to day needs.  They may ask you to just listen, or to keep them company.  If you see the person experiencing distress, you can encourage them to seek professional help.  Knowing the symptoms of PTSD will help you to know what to look for.  Just remember that you can only provide assistance when it is not causing you harm or distress as well.  Take care of yourself in the process of taking care of another so that you both achieve wellness.  That’s my goal for this blog, to always help you to…

Be well.

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