What happens in trauma therapy?

It’s interesting to look back on what has helped me to journey through PTSD towards ‘normality’.  I have had 4 therapists, 3 of whom have used a remarkable technique called ‘EMDR’.  The other used ‘Cognitive Behavioural Therapy’.  My major observation is that I made more progress with therapists who paid a great deal of attention to me and to my reactions, and had a range of techniques they could use as tools.  That takes a lot of experience!

‘Cognitive Behaviour Therapy’ helped me to MANAGE the trauma/head injury.  the therapist encouraged me to plan forward carefully for anything I was going to do, to pace myself and to find simple ways of reducing the adrenalin levels when I got over-stimulated.  For example, she introduced me to a very simple breathing exercise that really works:  you breath right out, then breath in and out but deliberately make the ‘out’ breath longer than the ‘in’ breath.  You can make it a bit more effective by counting and increasing the ‘out’ time e.g. in-2-3-4 out-2-3-4-5 in-2-3-4 out-2-3-4-5-6 in-2-3-4 out-2-3-4-5-6-7 etc.

Then, she tried to help me deal with my ‘startle response’ – that is, the way that I jump and ‘freeze’ in response to certain stimuli.  I was to choose something positive and think of that every time a certain stimulus arose.  For example, traffic could make me ‘freeze’ – so she asked me to think of something positive about people driving cars past me.  The problem was that I couldn’t think of anything that I really believed was positive about all those cars.  Eventually, I decided that I would find something to thank God for every day, and deliberately thank Him for it when I met traffic.  It did help me to manage my immediate problems, but I don’t think it dealt with the underlying condition.

I realized that people with PTSD need both to learn to manage their immediate reactions and to deal with the memories that are producing the trauma.  CBT helps with the former but not, I think, with the latter.  It also helps with something else that is very important:  teaching the body to react to stimuli in different ways.

One thought on “What happens in trauma therapy?

  1. My brother mentioned two books which could be helpful for people…I expect you’ve heard of them but I’ll list them anyway:

    ‘Healing Trauma’
    ‘Waking the Tiger’
    Both by Peter Levine



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