When we experience trauma or have difficult life events which exceed our capacity to process and make sense of them, we can begin to experience certain problematic symptoms which interfere with daily functioning and quality of life. Some of these symptoms may include:
- Unwanted, upsetting intrusive memories
- Avoidance of trauma-related thoughts, feelings, or reminders
- Inability to recall key features of the trauma
- Negative thoughts about oneself or the world around us
- Guilt and shame
- Negative mood/emotions
- Decreased interest in activities once enjoyable to us
- Feelings of isolation
- Anger and irritability
- Risky or destructive behavior including substance abuse, self-harm, suicidality
- Hypervigilance and heightened startle response
- Difficulty concentrating
- Disturbed sleep
Treatment for trauma/PTSD often involves utilizing a combination of different treatment strategies in order to achieve the best outcome. Some of the therapeutic interventions used in my practice include cognitive-behavioral therapy, EMDR, mindfulness strategies/body-centered techniques, solution-focused therapy, and strength-based approaches aimed at enhancing self-compassion, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. Therapy typically progresses through a series of phases, not necessarily linear, which are often re-visited on numerous occasions throughout the duration of our time together. These general phases include:
- Stabilization of problematic symptoms, addressing any issues around safety, and reducing self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse.
- Processing of difficult life experiences.
- Integration of traumatic events in such a way that reduces guilt/shame, self-blame and negative beliefs about oneself.
Trauma therapy will be different for each individual and treatment strategies are tailored to meet the individual needs of each person. For example, one person may need to spend a lot of time in the stabilization phase simply because they have not yet learned the types of coping strategies and emotion regulation techniques which are helpful in their lives. Another person may have found ample coping strategies and utilize them with a high degree of effectiveness but they have been struggling with low self-esteem, guilt and self-blame. The initial focus of therapy would look different for these two individuals. Also, therapy is a collaborative process so openness and feedback with regard to what you feel is working/not working will guide the focus of treatment and help ensure you get the desired outcome.