Coming to the decision to pursue therapy after trauma can be difficult. There are many therapies for trauma survivors and to decide what is best for you, you first have to recognize what is happening. Next, it’s important to have self-compassion. Finally, you need to realize that healing is a process and nothing, not even therapy, can make that happen overnight.
Every few months after my trauma I felt better and expected I was done healing. And would get very frustrated to realize I was still having nightmares, could still be triggered, was still struggling with anxiety attacks. It took a long while to let myself believe that I was healing and that healing was a journey, not a destination.
There is no good reason to suffer any more than you already have after experiencing trauma, whether it be long-term exposure or a one-time traumatic event. Traumatic symptoms can be paralyzing, and even if you’re functioning relatively normally at the moment, some people do experience feelings and reactions that resurface with no notice. From insomnia to generalized anxiety, extreme fear of specific situations or depression, any symptom can dramatically affect your day-to-day life, preventing you from moving on. You may never get back to the exact person you were before the trauma, but you can get back to a new version of yourself, a new normal.
Therapy for trauma survivors who experience PTSD can reduce your symptoms, teach you how to deal with them when they do arise, how to prevent triggers and stop episodes, restore your self-esteem and confidence, and help you function better.
Common therapeutic approaches to treating PTSD
The American Psychological Association strongly recommends the following therapies for PTSD.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This therapy is based in the belief that psychological problems are based, in part, on unhelpful ways of thinking and that sufferers can learn better ways of coping, relieving their symptoms and becoming more effective in their lives. A CBT therapist helps patients recognize disruptive cognitions, thus modify emotions, thoughts and behaviors related to the experience.
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT). A type of CBT based on a theory that as people access traumatic memories, they extinguish emotions attached to them. Unable to make sense of what happened in the traumatic experience, in CPT patients learn to express their emotions and balance beliefs about themselves, others, and the world, leading to improved self-esteem, a sense of power, and trust.
- Prolonged Exposure (PE). Based on the theory that people do not emotionally process traumatic events when they happen. The therapist encourages patient to revisit and recount the trauma, as though he or she is experiencing it at that moment, to retrain the memory about the event and reduce the reaction to it. Benefits of this therapy include a decrease of fear.
Another approach to treating PTSD, and one that helped me enormously, is:
- Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR). This therapy involves recalling the trauma while watching rapid, rhythmic movements that distract the patient. The eye movements reduce stress and encourage patients to access traumatic memories.
This is just a sample of therapies that help people recover from PTSD. I’m not a therapist and this does not constitute medical advice, but some thoughts on what can help you feel better.There are also medications to address changes in brain chemistry related to fear and anxiety, and many find them helpful.
Healing from the psychological aftermath of trauma is a journey and it can be a difficult one. It takes hard work and dedication. Getting help in the form of therapy is the answer for some who are on this path.