What is Trauma-Specific Therapy?
Trauma-Specific Therapy (TST) is designed to treat trauma-related symptoms, trauma-related disorders and specific disorders affected by traumatic stress.
It is a unique therapy approach that recognises and emphasises understanding how trauma can have lasting, adverse affects on our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. It addresses both the trauma condition, its related symptoms and any associated underlying issues, such as substance abuse.
Trauma therapies vary in their approaches.
- Some are present-focused and mainly address current coping skills, psycho-education and managing symptoms for better functioning in everyday life.
- Others are past-focused and emphasise understanding our trauma story and how it impacts our current thinking, emotions and behaviour – helping us to cope more effectively in the present.
- It’s also possible to use a combination of these two approaches, depending on the nature of the trauma and our specific treatment needs.
Whichever approach is taken, TST is rooted in understanding the connection between a traumatic experience and our emotional and behavioural responses to it. Its purpose is to then provide the skills and strategies needed to better understand, cope with and process those memories, emotions and behaviours. This enables us to create a healthier and more adaptive interpretation of the experience that took place, heal the wounds of the past and implement coping strategies so that long-term recovery can be achieved.
Trauma-Specific Therapy Techniques
As trauma affects everyone differently, TST makes use of a variety of techniques to achieve its goals, which can be used in combination with CBT, CPT and DBT, and include:
- Spontaneous Healing Intra-Systemic Process
- Solution-Focused Therapy
- Music and Art Therapy
- Adult-Child Therapy
- Introduction to 12-Step Program
- Pastoral / Spiritual Counselling.
Trauma-specific therapy aims to re-educate the mind and remove the ‘emotional charge’ that trauma has created, helping to restore us to a state of emotional wellbeing. It also addresses the relationship between trauma and other disorders (such as substance abuse), which can be significant and complex.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is defined as an emotional response to a shocking, distressing or dangerous incident. We may experience the event first-hand, be witness to it or be threatened by it remotely. It is not the events themselves that define ‘trauma’, but our individual reactions to those events. Our reactions can affect every part of our being – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Most people will experience at least one traumatic event in their life at one time or another.
There are three main types of trauma:
- Acute – usually resulting from a single incident, such as a serious accident, single event of assault or abuse, natural disaster or witnessing a violent event. Acute trauma is sometimes connected with short-term post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Chronic – caused by exposure to multiple, repeated and prolonged traumatic experiences, over an extended period of time, such as domestic violence, childhood abuse or combat situations. The symptoms of chronic trauma may not come to the surface for some time – even years.
- Complex – resulting from exposure to varied and multiple traumatic events, often within the context of an interpersonal relationship. Complex trauma includes all forms of child abuse, neglect, community violence, domestic and family violence, sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Research has shown that similar levels of exposure to traumatic events affect different people in different ways. Some of us will exhibit resilient responses and move on with minimum disruption to our lives, while others will be severely affected and require professional treatment to recover.
Trauma can affect any of us at any time and is not always easy to identify. Many of us are living with unresolved trauma from our past without even realising it.
If left untreated, trauma can develop into a range of health disorders, as symptoms become too painful to bear. Because of this, trauma-specific therapy is incredibly important, as it not only helps us to identify, understand and respond to the effects of trauma, but also addresses any co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis.
Fortunately, through TST we can make a full recovery from any kind of trauma – healing the mind, body and spirit – and move forward, unburdened, to a brighter future.
What are the Signs of Trauma?
Most of us will experience intense physical and emotional reactions immediately following a traumatic event. For many of us, these feelings will gradually go away over a few days or weeks. However, for some, the symptoms of psychological trauma can last for much longer, be recurring, and / or increase in intensity – becoming far more challenging to deal with.
How severely we are affected by traumatic events often depends on a combination of factors, including the nature of the event, our personality type, existing coping mechanisms and access to emotional support.
Common signs / symptoms of psychological trauma include:
- anger (at self, the event, the person responsible for the event or the world at large)
- eating disorders
- emotional detachment – numbness or dissociation as a survival response
- fatigue and exhaustion
- flashbacks – replaying the traumatic event mentally and feeling the effects physically and emotionally
- insomnia – difficulty sleeping due to recurring nightmares or rerunning the traumatic event in our head
- loss of self-esteem and self-confidence
- obsessive and compulsive behaviours
- self-medication – using alcohol or drugs to numb other symptoms
- sexual dysfunction
- social isolation and withdrawal
- stress (it’s common to find stress more difficult to deal with after a traumatic event).
What are the Long-Term Effects of Trauma?
More and more is being discovered about the adverse effects of unresolved trauma on many aspects of health and wellbeing, with science linking early trauma to everything from depression to back pain.
Many people struggle for years, living with the symptoms of unresolved trauma, which puts them at risk for almost any kind of physical, mental and psychological health problem imaginable.
The most common effects of long-term, unresolved trauma include:
- addictive behaviours
- inability to tolerate conflict
- inability to tolerate intense feelings
- all or nothing thinking
- suicidal thoughts and actions
- disorganised attachment patterns – dysfunctional relationships
- eating disorders
- intense anxiety
- feelings of depression, shame, guilt, hopelessness and / or despair
- self harm
- intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares.
If we don’t deal with unresolved trauming it will persist, and our past will continue to impact negatively on our present and future. It will continue to influence how we think, feel and behave in all aspects of our lives and be detrimental to our wellbeing.
What is a Trauma-Informed Approach?
A trauma-informed approach begins with understanding the physical, mental and emotional impact of trauma on the individual affected, their families, and the professionals who help them.
There is no universally accepted definition for a trauma-informed approach, but the most widely cited is based on the definition provided by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which incorporates four elements:
- realising the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for healing
- recognising the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff and others involved
- responding by putting the knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures and practices
- actively resisting re-traumatisation.
A trauma-informed approach is not achieved through any single particular technique, but rather requires constant attention, caring awareness, sensitivity and ongoing assessment and review.
SAMHSA’s six guiding principles of a trauma-informed approach
Rather than following a prescribed set of practices or procedures, a trauma-informed approach adheres to key principles. SAMHSA’s six key principles, essential to a trauma-informed approach, are:
- Trustworthy and transparent
- Peer support and mutual self-help
- Collaboration and mutuality
- Empowerment, voice and choice
- Cultural, historical and gender issues.
How effective is Trauma-Specific Therapy?
There is no magical treatment that will heal trauma (and trauma-related disorders) instantly, nor is there one form of therapy that is effective for everyone. Healing from trauma requires preparation, repeated practice, courage and determination. The support of others – especially that of professional therapists – is vital for success in long-term recovery.
There are numerous trauma therapy approaches, combining different methods and types of treatment, which makes it difficult to pinpoint effectiveness.
However, there is a large body of research evidence that supports the effectiveness of trauma-specific therapy, where CBT, CPT and DBT are used in combination with other treatments.
Many interventions have been tested across treatment settings, trauma types, and across populations. Studies have found TST to be effective among individuals from diverse backgrounds in terms of gender, age, sexual orientation and race/ethnicity.
Therapeutic programs, like the approach used at White River Manor, have been shown to be both efficient and effective in treating trauma disorders and any co-occurring conditions.
For more information and support, please contact us and begin your trauma recovery journey today.