Trauma Focused Therapies
Trauma Focused Therapies refer to a range of psychological models of treatment to help those who are experiencing trauma symptoms in response to a traumatic event. Trauma experienced by military or emergency services personnel, sexual and/or physical assault victims, those in motor vehicle accidents and mothers and fathers who are traumatised by birth, are all examples of individuals who may be best served by engaging in trauma-focused treatment.
There are a number of therapies that sit under this ‘category’ but the two that have the strongest evidence base (i.e. robust research indicating their effectiveness) are Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR). Both treatment models involve direct work on the memories related to the traumatic event.
TF-CBT aims to address the emotional, cognitive and behavioural impacts of the traumatic event. It includes psycho-education (understanding what is happening for you and why) and symptom management strategies, most of which are about reducing the intensity of psychological, emotional and physiological distress. Often a big component of TF-CBT is to systematically identify the key themes (i.e. loss of safety, power, control) that are keeping the individual ‘stuck’ in the trauma. TF-CBT can also include Exposure Therapy which involves confronting the memory of traumatic experiences in the therapy room (a controlled and safe environment) as well as confronting situations or activities the individual avoids because they are trauma-related where appropriate and possible in real life. ‘Staying with’ the experience (as an imagined exercise or in real-life) habituates the individual to the anxiety it produces, thereby reducing distress.
EMDR is similar but different! Confusing I know. EMDR works from the premise that during a traumatic event, the individual may have been so overwhelmed by emotions or ‘checked out’, such that they didn’t process the experience. When this happens, the trauma is stored in an ‘unprocessed’ way causing significant distress. In EMDR the person is asked to focus on trauma-related imagery, negative thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. The part of EMDR that can seem quite strange – but again, there is a wide evidence base to indicate its efficacy – is that the individual simultaneously move their eyes back and forth while they hold this information in their mind. Their eye movement is facilitated by following the movement of the therapist’s fingers across their field of vision for 20–30 seconds or more. This process may be repeated many times. The dual attention that the eye movements creates, facilitates the processing of the traumatic memory into existing knowledge networks therefore helping the person process the trauma.
Whether we’re talking TF-CBT or EMDR … neither should be used willy nilly! Often clients attend their first session asking for a specific treatment that they’ve read about. However, there are MANY variables unique to the individual that must be known and considered and which determine what is the most appropriate and emotionally safe treatment pathway. So while Trauma Focused Therapies are considered the most effective, they STILL may not be right for you. And if they are, like ALL other psychological treatment and psychotherapy, they require a strong therapeutic relationship. And when it comes to a strong therapeutic relationship, there are NO shortcuts. For some it’s created within a handful of sessions while for others, it takes many more.
Having said that, if you want to address your experience of trauma then it is best to work with a therapist with training in a wide range of models, including these. That way, YOUR treatment pathway isn’t determined by THEIR training. Nearly all the therapists at PPC are trained in BOTH these models (and many more) so please just speak with our receptionists about why you’re coming to see us. We want to make sure that in your first session, you’re sitting in front of the person who possesses the knowledge and skill base you need.