Trauma Therapy: What It Is and How It Can Help

Discover different types of trauma therapy and find the right approach to transform your trauma. Professional guidance awaits!

February 1, 2024

Understanding Trauma Therapy

Trauma therapy is a specialized form of therapy that aims to help individuals recover from the emotional, psychological, and physical effects of trauma. This section provides an overview of trauma, the role of therapy in trauma recovery, and the different types of trauma therapy available.

What is Trauma?

Trauma refers to an overwhelming experience that is often characterized by intense fear, helplessness, or horror. It can result from a single event, such as a car accident or assault, or from ongoing experiences, such as abuse or neglect. Traumatic experiences can have a profound impact on an individual's well-being, leading to a range of symptoms including anxiety, depression, flashbacks, nightmares, and difficulty trusting others.

The Role of Therapy in Trauma Recovery

Therapy plays a crucial role in helping individuals recover from trauma. It provides a safe and supportive environment where individuals can explore their experiences, process their emotions, and develop coping strategies. Through trauma therapy, individuals can gain a greater understanding of their trauma-related symptoms and develop skills to manage them effectively.

Different Types of Trauma Therapy

There are various approaches to trauma therapy, each with its own unique focus and techniques. Some of the commonly used types of trauma therapy include:

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a widely recognized and evidence-based therapy approach that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. It helps individuals develop healthier coping mechanisms, challenge distorted beliefs, and manage their trauma-related symptoms.
  2. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR combines elements of psychotherapy with bilateral stimulation techniques, such as eye movements or tapping, to help individuals process and reframe traumatic memories. It aims to reduce distressing symptoms and promote adaptive coping mechanisms.
  3. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT is often used to treat individuals who have experienced trauma alongside other mental health conditions, such as borderline personality disorder or self-harming behaviors. It focuses on teaching skills for emotional regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and mindfulness.
  4. Somatic Experiencing (SE): SE is an approach that emphasizes the connection between the mind and body in trauma recovery. It focuses on helping individuals release and resolve physical sensations and emotional energy associated with traumatic experiences. SE aims to restore a sense of safety and regulation in the nervous system.

Each type of trauma therapy offers a unique set of techniques and approaches to support individuals on their journey of healing. The choice of therapy depends on the individual's specific needs, preferences, and the expertise of the therapist. Seeking professional guidance can help determine the most suitable approach for addressing trauma-related issues and promoting recovery.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a widely recognized and effective approach used in trauma therapy. It focuses on the connection between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to help individuals overcome trauma and develop healthier coping strategies. In this section, we will explore how CBT works, its key concepts and techniques, as well as its effectiveness and benefits.

How CBT Works

CBT is based on the understanding that our thoughts and beliefs influence our emotions and behaviors. In trauma therapy, CBT aims to identify and challenge negative or distorted thoughts and beliefs related to the traumatic experience. By doing so, individuals can gradually change their responses and develop more adaptive ways of coping with their trauma.

During CBT sessions, therapists work collaboratively with clients to explore and understand their thoughts and emotions related to the trauma. Therapists help clients identify and reframe negative thoughts, replacing them with more realistic and positive ones. This process can lead to a reduction in distress and an improvement in overall well-being.

Key Concepts and Techniques

CBT incorporates several key concepts and techniques to address trauma effectively. Some of the core aspects of CBT in trauma therapy include:

  1. Psychoeducation: Therapists provide clients with information about trauma, its impact, and the CBT process itself. This helps individuals develop a deeper understanding of their experiences and the rationale behind the therapeutic techniques used.
  2. Cognitive Restructuring: This technique involves identifying and challenging negative or distorted thoughts related to the trauma. Therapists help clients examine the evidence supporting these thoughts and encourage the development of more balanced and realistic perspectives.
  3. Exposure Therapy: Exposure therapy is often used in trauma-focused CBT to help individuals confront and gradually process their traumatic memories. This exposure is done in a safe and controlled environment, allowing clients to develop new associations and reduce the distress associated with the traumatic event.
  4. Skill Building: CBT may include teaching clients practical skills to manage distressing emotions and cope with triggers related to their trauma. These skills can include relaxation techniques, stress management strategies, and problem-solving skills.

Effectiveness and Benefits

CBT has been extensively researched and has shown effectiveness in treating trauma-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It has been found to reduce symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety, while improving overall functioning and quality of life.

The benefits of CBT in trauma therapy include:

  • Increased awareness and understanding of the impact of trauma on thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
  • Development of effective coping strategies to manage distressing symptoms.
  • Reduction in avoidance behaviors and increased engagement in daily activities.
  • Enhanced problem-solving skills and improved ability to navigate challenging situations.
  • Promotion of healthier and more adaptive thought patterns and beliefs.

It's important to note that CBT may not be suitable for everyone or may need to be combined with other therapeutic approaches depending on individual needs. Seeking professional guidance from a qualified therapist is essential to determine the most appropriate treatment approach for trauma.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a specialized form of therapy designed to help individuals process and heal from traumatic experiences. This approach incorporates elements from various therapeutic modalities, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and exposure therapy, to facilitate trauma resolution. EMDR is particularly effective for individuals who have experienced single-incident traumas, such as accidents or assaults.

How EMDR Works

EMDR therapy involves a structured and phased approach to trauma treatment. The therapist guides the individual through a series of bilateral stimulation techniques, such as rapid eye movements, hand taps, or auditory tones. These bilateral stimulations are believed to activate the brain's natural healing processes, facilitating the reprocessing of traumatic memories.

During an EMDR session, the individual is asked to recall distressing memories while simultaneously focusing on the bilateral stimulation. This process helps to desensitize the individual to the distress associated with the traumatic memory, allowing for the integration and resolution of the trauma.

Phases of EMDR Therapy

EMDR therapy typically consists of eight phases, each serving a specific purpose in the treatment process:

  1. History Taking: The therapist gathers information about the individual's trauma history and identifies specific traumatic memories to target in therapy.
  2. Preparation: The individual learns coping skills and relaxation techniques to manage distress during the therapy sessions.
  3. Assessment: The therapist helps the individual identify the negative beliefs, emotions, and physical sensations associated with the traumatic memories.
  4. Desensitization: The individual engages in bilateral stimulation while focusing on the distressing memory, allowing for the desensitization of the traumatic experience.
  5. Installation: Positive beliefs and self-statements are reinforced to replace the negative beliefs associated with the trauma.
  6. Body Scan: The therapist helps the individual identify and address any residual physical sensations related to the trauma.
  7. Closure: Each session concludes with a review of progress made and strategies for self-care between sessions.
  8. Reevaluation: The therapist assesses the effectiveness of the treatment and determines the need for additional sessions.

Effectiveness and Benefits

Research has shown that EMDR therapy can be highly effective in reducing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related conditions. It has been recognized as an evidence-based treatment by various professional organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization.

EMDR therapy has several benefits, including:

  • Rapid Results: EMDR therapy is often known for its ability to achieve significant symptom reduction in a relatively short period.
  • Enhanced Emotional Processing: The bilateral stimulation used in EMDR facilitates the processing and integration of traumatic memories, leading to decreased distress and increased resilience.
  • Holistic Approach: EMDR addresses not only the cognitive aspects of trauma but also the emotional and physiological components, promoting a comprehensive healing process.
  • Generalizability of Skills: The coping skills and resilience developed during EMDR therapy can extend beyond the treatment sessions, helping individuals navigate future challenges.

While EMDR therapy has shown great promise in trauma treatment, it is important to note that it may not be suitable for everyone. Seeking professional guidance and considering individual circumstances are crucial when choosing the appropriate therapy approach.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a type of therapy that was originally developed to treat individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD). However, it has since been adapted and proven effective in treating various mental health conditions, including trauma-related disorders. DBT combines elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with concepts of mindfulness and acceptance.

How DBT Works

DBT aims to help individuals develop new coping skills and strategies to manage difficult emotions and improve relationships. It consists of individual therapy sessions, group skills training, phone coaching, and therapist consultation meetings.

In individual therapy, the therapist and client work collaboratively to identify specific problem areas and set treatment goals. The therapist helps the client apply DBT skills in real-life situations and addresses any challenges that arise.

Group skills training is an essential component of DBT. In these sessions, clients learn and practice skills in areas such as mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. These skills are designed to help individuals regulate their emotions, tolerate distressing situations, and navigate interpersonal conflicts more effectively.

Phone coaching provides clients with the opportunity to contact their therapist between sessions for support and guidance when facing challenging situations. This aspect of DBT helps individuals apply the skills they have learned in therapy to their daily lives.

Therapist consultation meetings are an essential component of DBT treatment. During these meetings, therapists receive support and guidance from their peers and experts in DBT to enhance their therapeutic skills and ensure the best possible care for their clients.

Core Components of DBT

DBT consists of four core components:

  1. Mindfulness: Mindfulness skills help individuals develop awareness of the present moment without judgment. This component focuses on cultivating mindfulness through various techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and grounding techniques.
  2. Distress Tolerance: Distress tolerance skills aim to help individuals tolerate and survive distressing situations without resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms. These skills include self-soothing techniques, distracting oneself from distress, and accepting reality as it is.
  3. Emotion Regulation: Emotion regulation skills assist individuals in identifying and managing intense emotions effectively. These skills include understanding and labeling emotions, increasing positive emotional experiences, and reducing emotional vulnerability.
  4. Interpersonal Effectiveness: Interpersonal effectiveness skills focus on improving communication and building healthy relationships. These skills help individuals assert their needs, set boundaries, and navigate conflicts in a respectful manner.

Effectiveness and Benefits

DBT has shown effectiveness in treating trauma-related disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as other conditions such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Research has demonstrated that DBT can lead to a reduction in self-destructive behaviors, improved emotion regulation, and enhanced interpersonal effectiveness.

By incorporating mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness skills, DBT equips individuals with the tools needed to navigate traumatic experiences and build resilience.

Somatic Experiencing (SE)

Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a specialized type of trauma therapy that focuses on the mind-body connection and the physical sensations associated with trauma. SE aims to help individuals release and regulate the energy trapped in their bodies as a result of traumatic experiences. This approach recognizes that trauma is not only a psychological issue but also manifests in physical symptoms and sensations.

How SE Works

Somatic Experiencing operates on the principle that the body has an innate capacity to heal itself from trauma. During SE sessions, the therapist guides the individual to pay attention to their bodily sensations, helping them develop a greater awareness and understanding of their physical responses to trauma.

By gently exploring these sensations and allowing them to be experienced fully, individuals can gradually release the stored energy and discharge the fight, flight, or freeze responses that may have become stuck in their bodies. The therapist provides support and guidance throughout the process, helping the individual regulate their emotions and create a sense of safety during the somatic exploration.

Principles of SE

Somatic Experiencing is based on several key principles that guide the therapeutic process. These principles include:

  1. Titration: SE emphasizes the importance of working with trauma in small, manageable increments. This approach ensures that individuals do not become overwhelmed by the intensity of their sensations or emotions, allowing for a more gradual and sustainable healing process.
  2. Pendulation: The concept of pendulation involves alternating between exploring traumatic material and focusing on positive or neutral experiences. This helps individuals regulate their nervous system by shifting their attention between distressing and grounding sensations, promoting a sense of safety and balance.
  3. Tracking: Tracking refers to the therapist's ability to attune to the individual's bodily sensations and guide their attention to subtle shifts and changes. By tracking these sensations, the therapist helps the individual stay connected to their bodily experience, facilitating the release of trapped energy.
  4. Resourcing: Resourcing involves the identification and cultivation of internal and external resources that help individuals feel safe and grounded. These resources can provide a sense of stability and support during the therapeutic process, enabling individuals to navigate challenging emotions and sensations more effectively.

Effectiveness and Benefits

Somatic Experiencing has shown promising results in helping individuals recover from trauma-related symptoms. Research suggests that SE can reduce the severity of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, improve emotional regulation, and enhance overall well-being.

By addressing trauma at a physiological level, SE aims to restore the individual's sense of safety, empowerment, and resilience. This approach can provide individuals with a deeper understanding of their trauma-related symptoms and support them in developing healthier coping strategies.

To determine if Somatic Experiencing is the right approach for an individual, it is important to consider their specific needs, preferences, and therapeutic goals. Seeking professional guidance from a qualified trauma therapist can help individuals explore different trauma therapy approaches and determine the most suitable option for their unique circumstances.

Choosing the Right Therapy Approach

When seeking trauma therapy, it's important to choose the right approach that suits your specific needs and circumstances. Each therapy approach has its own unique techniques and methods that may be more effective for certain individuals. Here are some factors to consider when selecting a therapy approach and why seeking professional guidance is crucial.

Factors to Consider

  1. Type of Trauma: Different therapy approaches may be more suitable for specific types of trauma. For example, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is often recommended for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while Somatic Experiencing (SE) may be beneficial for trauma related to physical or emotional pain. Consider the nature and origin of your trauma to guide your selection.
  2. Symptoms and Goals: Take into account your specific symptoms and goals for therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns, making it helpful for individuals experiencing anxiety or depression related to trauma. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is effective in addressing emotional regulation and interpersonal difficulties. Evaluate which symptoms and goals are most relevant to you.
  3. Personal Preferences: Consider your personal preferences and comfort level with different therapy approaches. Some individuals may prefer a more structured and directive approach like CBT, while others may be drawn to the mind-body connection emphasized in SE. Reflect on what resonates with you and what you feel more open to exploring.
  4. Therapist's Expertise: It's important to take into account the expertise and experience of the therapist. Different therapy approaches require specific training and certification. Research and seek out therapists who specialize in the therapy approach you are interested in. Their expertise and experience will contribute to the effectiveness of the therapy.

Seeking Professional Guidance

Choosing the right therapy approach can be a complex decision, and seeking professional guidance is highly recommended. A qualified mental health professional, such as a therapist or psychologist, can help you navigate the various therapy approaches available and provide personalized recommendations based on your unique needs.


Trauma can have a profound impact on an individual's mental, emotional, and physical well-being. However, with the right therapy approach, individuals can learn to manage their symptoms, build resilience, and heal from their traumatic experiences.

In this article, we explored two trauma therapy approaches: Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Somatic Experiencing (SE). DBT combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness and acceptance principles to help individuals develop new coping skills and strategies. SE focuses on the mind-body connection and physical sensations associated with trauma to help individuals release stored energy and regulate their nervous system.

When seeking trauma therapy, it's important to consider factors such as the type of trauma experienced, specific symptoms and goals for therapy, personal preferences, and the therapist's expertise. Seeking professional guidance can help individuals evaluate their options and choose the most suitable approach for their needs.