Have you (or someone you know) ever had a therapist who specialized in trauma therapy? Have you heard about trauma therapists or know someone who is knowledgeable about their background and professional qualifications? If not, don’t feel bad. So many people struggle with the idea of a trauma therapist and do not know why trauma therapists are different from other therapists. In fact, it wasn’t until I obtained my certifications in trauma therapy that I learned just how specialized a trauma therapist is. A trauma therapist is trained to handle certain situations, symptoms, and client behaviors in a certain way that sets them apart from other therapists. For example, a trauma therapist would know exactly how to help a family cope with their adopted daughter’s internalized guilt for being removed from multiple foster care homes.
This article will list examples of scenarios where trauma therapists may be helpful and discuss 7 things that make trauma therapists different from other therapists. If you or someone you know may be interested in trauma therapy, this article is for you.
Most people shy away from trauma therapists. Why? Because trauma therapists strive to engage the client in creating what is known as a trauma timeline. A timeline is a report (written in a journal, typed, verbally discussed, drawn as a picture, etc.) that helps both the client and therapist explore the traumatic event, figure out what emotions and thoughts resulted from the experience, and ultimately explore ways to help the client cope. This is not an easy process because there are no right or wrong ways to create a timeline. There are also no tools on how much to share and how much you should not share. The client and therapist must decide if a timeline is necessary and if it is, what the goal of revising the experience would be.
If you (or someone you know) may benefit from a trauma therapist, I encourage you to pursue one. Be careful with who you choose (as not every trauma therapist is a good one). Also be careful about divulging too much private information at the initial encounter because this could “re-traumatize” you if you are not ready. Give yourself some time to determine if trauma therapy is where you want to be before you begin talking. It will also be important for you to determine what a trauma therapist does so you do not waste your time. Some examples of what we trauma therapists do include but are not limed to the following:
- Assisting foster or adoptive parents with adjusting, discussing the child’s biological parents/caregivers, discussing post-traumatic symptoms, parental alienation, etc.
- Assisting adults, children, or teens who have been abused or neglected.
- Helping an adult explore and accept medical or psycho-therapeutic trauma such as negative experiences that were intense and repeated.
- Assisting a client in exploring and healing from rape or sexual abuse.
- Discussing and advocating for human trafficking and other social injustices.
- Assisting families negatively affected by natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, etc.
- Working with police, firefighters, and other first responders in exploring and coping with things they see, hear, and experience.
- Helping a family adjust to a loved one with psychosis or another severe illness.
As you can see, the list could go on and on. Trauma therapists are often wonderfully skilled (if appropriately trained) in helping people discuss, explore, cope, and eventually recover from tragedy.
The following list provides some idea of why trauma therapists are different from other therapists:
- They understand neuro-biology: Trauma therapists are trained, probably more than other therapists, in understanding how the brain (and all of its sophistication), our genes, and environment influence our ability to tolerate stress, make sense out of it, and display resilience. Genetic makeup and the operations of the brain truly have influence over how we process a trauma, bounce back from a difficult experience, and heal. Trauma therapists are often well versed on how traumatic experiences change certain structures of the brain which can lead to structural damage.
- They are trained to acknowledge the psychological, emotional, and physiological affects of a traumatic event on the sufferer: While there are many good therapists among us, some therapists lack the skill necessary to help clients understand how negative experiences can affect our ability to function in society, in our workforce, and in our families. When someone is experiencing a traumatic experience such as a very emotionally draining divorce with traumatic elements such as domestic violence, the brain changes (neuro-biological), the body changes (physiological), our psychological needs change, and so too does a person’s overall outlook on life. Individuals seeking a trauma therapist should be educated, by the therapist, to how trauma can change everything about a person.
- They understand sequences or “processes:” Trauma therapists are well versed on helping clients explore and understand “their story.” When a traumatic event is occurring or re-occurring, there are a series of experiences that can ultimately be intermixed to create a story from start to finish. Trauma therapists typically encourage clients to think about “their story” and consider creating a narrative of what happened. The narrative is designed to help the client and therapist identify patterns, sequences, or processes that need to be explored. All exploration of trauma entails the ultimate goal of helping an individual heal.
- Their techniques are carefully studied and empirically tested/based: Trauma therapists cannot be considered trauma therapists unless they are trained and certified. Certification programs provide educational seminars, workshops, classes/courses, and/or online self-taught classes for therapists to obtain certification. Certification is not easy and requires a series of steps to achieve that title. Some certification programs require “field experience” which involves a therapist working with cases that involve trauma. These certification programs require a therapist to be supported by a supervisor who can attest to the therapist’s level of training/experience, abilities, and knowledge. Even more, trauma-based programs and researchers only support theories and techniques of counseling that have been studied and researched. If trauma therapists, who are trained, do not use tools and techniques that are proven to work, the therapist could experience legal and/or ethical recourse. I should also add that most trauma therapists are not only certified but licensed by the state.
- They incorporate multiple coping skills and other useful tools into therapy to help you cope: Trauma therapists are really big on helping clients learn about, develop, and use coping skills. Coping skills are things we can do, that are different from our typical activities of enjoyment, to help us calm down and gain control of our emotions. Coping skills help us control our emotions or relax so that we can return to a state of calm. Other therapists most definitely have learned about coping skills and why they are important for clients. However, certain educational and certification programs focus more extensively on the topic than other programs. As a result, trauma therapists are likely to help you learn more about coping skills than other therapists.
- The “recovery model” is paid special attention to: Trauma therapists are able to speak with clients about forgiveness, coping with grief and/or loss, and finding purpose and meaning after the trauma. Some therapists can do this without a certification, but trauma therapists are trained to work specifically with clients on these topics.
- They let the client lead treatment: Most of today’s therapists do this, which I love, especially with younger children and teens. Some clients can truly benefit from “perceived control” and trauma therapists are typically good at this. They follow the lead, as long as it is not self-destructive, of the client and “wait” on the client to gather courage, strength, or readiness to explore and heal from the trauma.
I must add that the information above is not written to minimize the achievements of other mental health professionals in the filed. It is made available to you to assist in gaining a more accurate view of why trauma therapists are well respected in the field of psychology.
What has been your experience with therapy? Do you (or did you) have a therapist who understands you?
Feel free to post a comment below.
All the best