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8 Key Types of Trauma Therapy

Posted on: July 25, 2023

When it comes to trauma, those in the mental health field will readily share that there isn’t one type of therapy or intervention that fits every situation or person.

Each person’s trauma is unique with its own set of biological, physiological, neurological and psychological needs and reactions. Similarly, the patient’s age, gender, developmental environment, medications, diversity, socioeconomic conditions and more are all factors that can alter what type of trauma-focused therapy is best suited for their trauma symptoms.

Considering these variables can be intimidating for practitioners that want to provide successful care. Furthermore, practitioners’ education, understanding of and experience with trauma patients will impact the chosen trauma-informed care plan.

With all of this to unpack, let’s break down some different types of trauma therapy and factors to consider as a mental health clinician.

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What Is Trauma Therapy?

Trauma therapy, or trauma-focused therapy, is a specific approach to therapy that is built on the understanding of how traumatic experiences affect an individual’s mental, emotional and physical well-being. This type of therapy aims to help children, adolescents and adult survivors heal from the effects of trauma.

There are three main types of trauma that patients may be dealing with:

  • Acute Trauma stems from a singular traumatic experience, such as an accident, natural disaster or sexual assault.
  • Chronic Trauma occurs when an individual experiences multiple, long-term and/or prolonged traumatic events. This trauma can be caused by numerous sources and can happen at any point in an individual's life. Some examples include domestic violence, bullying, addiction, sexual abuse and long-term illness.
  • Complex Trauma typically refers to prolonged abuse or neglect that occurs during childhood and is often perpetrated by a caregiver or someone in a position of authority. This type of trauma usually involves multiple traumatic experiences and can include instances of childhood abuse, neglect, or ongoing exposure to domestic violence or civil unrest.

Like adults, children can benefit from trauma therapy. In fact, there’s a heightened focus on addressing childhood trauma, considering the profound and lasting effects such adverse experiences can have on an individual into adulthood. In the book Children Recovering from Complex Trauma by Nicole Vliegen, Eileen Tang and Patrick Meurs, there's a wealth of information about how young ones can reclaim their lives after enduring traumatic events.

Those who are struggling with psychological trauma can feel like they’re fighting a war within themselves. As Janina Fisher discusses in her bestselling book, Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors, the neurobiological point of view indicates that the legacy of trauma responses indicates an “attempt at adaptation.” What a therapist might recognize as resistance, stuckness, untreatable diagnoses or character-disordered behavior, is actually a representation of how the traumatized individual adapted to survive in a dangerous environment where they felt unsafe.

Essentially, each “symptom” of trauma was created by the individual’s body as a solution to the traumatic event or situation. Understanding how and why each symptom was the body’s response to protect the individual is both incredibly helpful for the practitioner, as well as potentially healing for the patient as they can finally explain and put words to what they’ve been experiencing.

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The crucial role a trauma therapist plays

With an empathetic, patient and trauma-informed approach, a trauma therapist guides individuals on their healing journey, helping them understand, confront and eventually overcome the symptoms of their traumatic experiences.

As we’ve established, trauma can manifest in various ways, and these symptoms can be both physical and psychological. They may include nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, depression, irritability, feelings of guilt or shame and social withdrawal. On the physical front, trauma can lead to sleeping problems, aches and pains, changes in appetite and even health problems with no apparent cause. Understanding each person's unique symptoms and how they are related to their traumatic experiences is a vital step in effective trauma treatment.

A trauma-informed approach implies acknowledging the widespread impact of trauma, understanding potential paths for healing and resisting re-traumatization. A therapist is knowledgeable about trauma's complexities and effects, and understands that trauma can affect anyone. They see the individual as a whole person, not just their trauma.

A trauma therapist's role is also to understand each person's specific needs. Trauma therapy is not a one-size-fits-all kind of treatment; what works for one person might not work for another. The therapist is tasked with creating a tailored treatment plan that respects the individual's pace, coping mechanisms and personal history. They also ensure the therapy environment feels safe, supportive and non-judgmental, which is paramount to the individual's healing process.

Clinical Guide to Trauma Therapy

Clinical Guide to Trauma Therapy

This Clinical Guide to Trauma Therapy features a curated collection of 6 chapters excerpted from new and recent Routledge books. Chapters offer effective therapeutic techniques from a range of clinical perspectives on working with clients of all ages.

Get your Clinical Guide >

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8 Types of Trauma Therapy to Consider

There are many different types of trauma therapy that can be utilized to treat patients. Let’s go through the most popular ones:

1. Trauma-informed expressive arts therapy

Trauma-informed expressive arts therapy is a unique form of therapeutic intervention created by Cathy A. Malchiodi that can be beneficial to children that are dealing with trauma. The foundation of this type of therapy combines neurodevelopmental research and the sensory qualities of the arts as a child trauma intervention method.

The main focuses of this therapy are to learn how the mind and body react to a trauma experience, recognize symptoms as adaptive coping strategies, prioritize cultural sensitivity and empower trauma survivors to thrive in their day-to-day lives.

Expressive arts therapy can utilize many different creative activities, such as art, movement, play, music and theater, to treat PTSD, acute stress disorder and other trauma-related issues.

To learn more about trauma-informed expressive arts therapy and other techniques for working with young people, check out Trauma-Informed Practices With Children and Adolescents by William Steele and Cathy A. Malchiodi.

2. Psychotherapy

Also referred to as talk therapy, psychotherapy is probably the most well-known type of trauma therapy. In this type of therapy, mental health professionals will guide a patient as they talk through their problems, trauma memory and thoughts to help with a broad range of mental illnesses and emotional difficulties. With successful psychotherapy, therapists can help patients eliminate or manage their symptoms and improve their healing and emotional well-being.

Within psychotherapy, there are additional subsets that will work better with certain types of trauma or problems than others.

When working with psychotherapy, a trauma-focused and sensitive approach can help the patient and clinician form trust to enable open and comfortable communication.

3. Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy is best suited for children, adolescents, adult survivors and families and aims to help address emotional and mental health needs, as well as unhealthy behavior patterns. Due to its trauma focus, this type of therapy is practiced with more sensitivity toward post-traumatic stress and mood disorders that may stem from abuse or grief. If the patient is a child, TF-CBT often incorporates family therapy approaches.

Practitioners will typically invite non-threatening caregivers into the space to include them in the child’s care plan. This approach can help teach involved adults new parenting and communication skills to better aid the child.

TF-CBT is a short-term intervention for trauma patients and counseling treatment usually lasts between eight and 25 sessions.

4. Jungian therapy

Jungian therapy, also known as Jungian analysis or analytical psychology, is a type of psychodynamic psychotherapy, which approaches human development and traumatic memory through psycho-spirituality. The main goal of this type of therapy is to bring psychological healing to the two worlds of the personality: the conscious and the unconscious.

In Donald Kalsched’s Trauma and the Soul, he explores the spiritual moments that can happen during psychoanalytic work through clinical vignettes. As a Jungian analyst, Kalsched discusses his thoughts on how depth psychotherapy can help a trauma survivor understand and heal their experiences through spirituality and a focus on the soul.

The main goal of Jungian therapy is the idea of individuation, which is an ongoing process that aims to recognize one’s own uniqueness and to live authentically and in cooperation with other people.

It's important to note that Jungian therapy doesn’t necessarily require the practice of religion and spirituality.

5. Psychedelic therapy

Psychedelic therapy is an innovative and promising approach to trauma treatment. This form of therapy involves the use of psychedelics, such as ketamine, under medical supervision to facilitate psychological healing and personal growth. The book Integral Psychedelic Therapy by Jason A. Butler, Genesee Herzberg and Richard Louis Miller investigates the integration of psychedelic medicine into modern psychotherapeutic practices.

Ketamine, in particular, has been shown to promote the growth of neural connections in the brain, helping to repair areas impacted by traumatic stress.

It creates a dissociative state that may allow patients to explore and address their past trauma more effectively and in a safe, controlled environment. Therapists guide patients through their psychedelic experiences, helping them process emotions and insights that arise. This therapy, while not suitable for everyone, can lead to significant improvements for those struggling with PTSD and other trauma-related conditions, offering a new path to healing when other treatments have failed.

6. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a unique form of psychotherapy designed to diminish negative feelings associated with memories of traumatic events. Unlike most forms of talk therapy, EMDR therapy focuses less on the traumatic event itself and more on the disturbing emotions and symptoms resulting from the event.

During EMDR therapy sessions, the therapist will guide the patient in making side-to-side eye movements while recalling the traumatic event. These eye movements are believed to facilitate the processing of trauma, reducing its emotional impact. EMDR can change how the brain processes information, helping to restore its normal function while promoting a more adaptive, healthy perspective on both past and future events.

For more depth on EMDR's methodology, refer to EMDR Supervision: A Handbook by Robin Logie, which provides a comprehensive guide on the supervision of EMDR within clinical settings. Additionally, for those interested in the intersection of creative therapies and EMDR, EMDR and Creative Arts Therapies: Expanding the Therapist’s Toolkit by Davis, Fitzgerald, Jacobs and Marchand offers a pioneering exploration of the integration of EMDR and creative arts therapies.

7. Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT)

Emotionally-focused therapy is a form of therapy that seeks to help clients understand and reshape their emotional responses, aiming to foster secure, healthy relationships. In the context of trauma, EFT helps individuals understand their emotional responses to distress, explore and reorganize emotional experiences and transform negative patterns of interaction with others.

For instance, a patient might come to understand that their fear and avoidance of closeness with others stem from a past traumatic event, and through EFT, they might work on recognizing, expressing, and transforming these emotions. Through fostering a safe therapeutic environment, the therapist helps the client navigate their emotional world, encouraging emotional balance and healthier relationships.

8. Solution-Focused Therapy (SFT)

SFT is based on the concept that clients already possess the resources and abilities to overcome their difficulties, and they just need assistance to identify and utilize these strengths. This approach is distinct because it doesn’t require a deep dive into a client's past or a comprehensive understanding of the problem. Instead, it’s centered around envisioning solutions and generating a detailed description of what life would be like if the problem didn't exist.

For example, a therapist might ask, "Suppose tonight, while you slept, a miracle occurred. When you awake tomorrow, what would be some of the things you would notice that would tell you life had suddenly gotten better?" This can be particularly useful for those who have experienced trauma as it focuses on resilience, strengths, and solutions rather than revisiting the traumatic event itself. It reinforces the survivor's capacity to manage difficulties and fosters hope and optimism about the future.

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Benefits of Trauma Therapy

Trauma is painful. It not only alters how people interact with others but also how they understand or misunderstand themselves. It can lead to anxiety, self-harm, substance abuse, personality disorders, PTSD — the list goes on and on. The sooner a patient can access trauma-informed treatment, the sooner they can start to heal.

Trauma-focused therapy works with patients to help them understand their trauma and address their symptoms and problems in healthier ways.

Below are some (but not all) potential benefits of trauma therapy:

  • Reduce or improve trauma-related symptoms
  • Empower personal growth
  • Manage regulation of the nervous system (e.g. heart palpitations, shaking, etc.)
  • Refocus the present over the past
  • Overcome addictions
  • Eliminate or reduce self-harm
  • Recognize generational trauma
  • Implement healthier coping skills
  • Improve self-worth and self-esteem

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Additional Trauma Therapy Resources

Routledge publishes a diverse catalog of books about trauma for mental health clinicians. We also invite you to download any of the sample chapters below for a taste of some of our recent key titles: