Posted on: November 15, 2021
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 breakdown some different types of trauma therapy and factors to consider as a mental health clinician.
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 a person experiences multiple, long-term and/or prolonged traumatic events. Some examples include domestic violence, bullying, addiction, sexual abuse and long-term illness.
- Complex Trauma is the result of multiple different traumatic experiences. Potential causes can include childhood abuse, domestic violence or civil unrest.
As noted above, trauma can stem from a one-time event, a long-lasting situation, or a combination of both. This includes any experience that causes emotional or psychological harm to the individual, such as abuse, domestic violence, neglect, divorce, loss, disasters and more. Any of these events can lead to developmental trauma and/or the onset of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
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 created 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.
4 Types of Trauma Therapy to Consider
There are many different types of trauma therapy that can be utilized to treat patients. Read on to explore some key types of trauma therapy, including trauma-informed expressive arts therapy and psychotherapy. We will also expand on two subsets of psychotherapy, trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Jungian therapy.
Trauma-informed expressive arts therapy
Trauma-informed expressive arts therapy is a unique form of therapeutic intervention 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 traumatic events, 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.
Also referred to as talk therapy, psychotherapy is probably the most well-known type of trauma therapy for most people. 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 illness and emotional difficulties. With successful psychotherapy, therapists can help patients eliminate or manage their symptoms and improve their healing and emotional wellbeing.
Within psychotherapy, there are additional subsets that will work better with certain types of trauma or problems more 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.
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 involve them with 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 sessions usually last between eight and 25 sessions.
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 trauma survivors 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 is important to note that Jungian therapy doesn’t necessarily require the practice of religion and spirituality.
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 regulationof the nervous sytem (e.g. heart palpitations, shaking, etc.)
- Refocus the present over the past
- Overcome addictions
- Eliminate or reduce self-harm
- Recognize hereditary trauma
- Implement healther coping skills
- Improve self-worth and self-esteem
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:
- "Working with dissociated aggression in traumatized patients" from Traumatic Narcissism and Recovery
- "Working with cultural phantoms through cultural complexes" from Intergenerational Complexes in Analytical Psychology
- "Accepting the Challenge" from Reducing Secondary Traumatic Stress