Emotional trauma can be a daily struggle. It can be upsetting to have feelings like fear, panic, anger, or sadness pop-up uninvited. Maybe you have wondered about how to get help, but have felt overwhelmed at the options. Which therapist is going to help me? Is there a “right” kind of therapy that will make my daily life better? And what is EMDR?
I understand how hard it can be to settle on the right kind of therapy for you. In this blog, I’m going to help you make sense of a few of the most common approaches to treating emotional trauma, including EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, CBT, and DBT.
Is there a “go-to” way to treat trauma?
In short, no. Trauma affects people in very different ways. It can be caused by a single highly traumatic event or by repeated experiences to what therapists refer to as “little ‘t’ traumas.” Regardless of the form it takes, trauma can cause long-lasting psychological distress that affects every aspect of one’s life.
Let’s talk options, EMDR and otherwise
The most common form of therapy for trauma is talk therapy. Talk therapy can utilize numerous modalities, from psychodynamic to CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). Both integrate evidence-based practices. They have been tried and tested and demonstrated effectiveness across various populations and symptoms. EMDR is a new method that many people find highly effective to alleviate their symptoms of trauma. However, it is just one of many therapeutic techniques that can help you more effectively cope with and overcome your trauma. Depending on your needs and preferences, you may select for a therapist who specializes in one/multiple of the following forms of treatment.
1. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
In recent years, EMDR was developed. It quickly became a popular form of treatment for trauma. EMDR was developed in the late-1980s by psychologist Francine Shapiro to treat PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). EMDR targets trauma’s underlying emotional and cognitive processes. Therapists who practice EMDR believe that traumatic experiences can become “stuck” in the brain. Memories of trauma can thus cause negative beliefs and emotions that affect one’s ability to cope. EMDR can help reprocess these experiences and help develop more adaptive beliefs and coping mechanisms.
In summary, EMDR involves bilateral stimulation. This may be achieved through eye movements, tapping, or auditory cues. While focusing on these cues, the client focuses on a traumatic memory. This bilateral stimulation is believed to aid the client as they reprocess their traumatic memory, thereby facilitating the client to process the memory in a new manner. In my next blog, I’ll interview a therapist who integrates EMDR into treatment for trauma to further explore the goals, practice, and effectiveness of EMDR therapy.
2. Somatic Experiencing (SE)
Of the other treatment methods included in this blog, Somatic Experiencing (SE) has the most in common with EMDR. If you have ever heard of “tapping,” you are already familiar with SE! SE focuses on the physical sensations associated with trauma. It is based on the belief that traumatic experiences can become “trapped” in the body. SE theorizes that by releasing these physical sensations, you can release the trauma and heal. In SE, the therapist will help you become more aware of the physical sensations associated with trauma. This may include tightness in the chest, tension in the muscles, or a racing heart. You will then learn to tune into these sensations and to develop strategies for releasing them. SE often involves gentle physical touch, such as tapping or holding, to help the person release the physical tension that is associated with the trauma. The therapist might also guide you through movements or exercises to help release the trauma from your body.
3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on the triad relationship between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It is often used to treat anxiety and depression, but can also be effective in treating trauma. CBT will teach you how to identify negative thought patterns associated with your trauma. Then you will learn to challenge them, and then replace them with more realistic, positive, and adaptive ones. This can help you develop coping strategies and improve your overall well-being.
4. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) was originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder. However, it has been found to be effective in treating other mental health disorders as well, including trauma. DBT focuses on helping you learn to regulate your emotions and develop more effective coping strategies. In DBT, your therapist will teach you how to identify the triggers that lead to emotional dysregulation. You will then learn and practice skills to help you manage your emotions. These skills may include mindfulness, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness.
So how do I determine which method is right for me?
Actually, you don’t need to choose just one! EMDR is not a standalone treatment for trauma. That means that it is often used in combination with other therapies. EMDR’s goal is to reduce traumatic memories’ intensity and associated negative beliefs. Thus, EMDR can make it easier for you to engage in other forms of therapy. Overall, there are many different therapeutic approaches to treating trauma, and no one approach is right for everyone. The best approach will depend on your individual needs, preferences, and experiences.
What are my next steps?
Whether you choose EMDR, CBT, DBT, SE, or another approach to treating trauma, the most important thing is to take that first step and seek help. If you are struggling with trauma or a trauma-related disorder, it’s important to seek help from a qualified mental health professional who can help you find the right treatment approach for you. As a psychologist, I appreciate when potential clients ask me about my qualifications to help them achieve their treatment goals! I hope this empowers you to ask the therapist you are considering working with about their level of experience and expertise in treating trauma in general and/or in a specific form of treatment.
Trauma can have a profound impact on a person’s life, but it doesn’t have to control it. With the help of a qualified mental health professional, you can develop the skills and strategies you need to heal from the effects of trauma and live a happier, more fulfilling life.
Don’t let trauma hold you back any longer – click the link below to book an appointment with a psychologist today and start your journey towards healing and recovery. Your mental health and well-being are worth investing in, and there is no better time than now to take that first step towards a brighter future.
Dr. Shannon N. Thomas
I specialize in therapy for anxiety, ADHD, and relationship issues. I help adults and couples move from overwhelmed to thriving. Click the link below to book a complimentary consultation call with me today.