Trauma Treatment OptionsMay 31, 2022 ● By Ronica O’Hara
Dozens of approaches are available for treating trauma, and experienced therapists often mix and match cognitive and experiential modalities to meet a patient’s needs. “Choose the therapist over the method, as research repeatedly shows that the therapeutic relationship is the most important factor in any successful therapy,” advises internationally recognized PTSD specialist Babette Rothschild, author of The Body Remembers, Revolutionizing Trauma Treatment and 8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery.
Some primary approaches, with links to practitioners, are:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works to process the traumatic event and change negative thought patterns connected to it. Usually involving 12 to 20 sessions, it is the most thoroughly studied approach and has been shown to be effective for about half of patients with good, long-term retention of outcomes. Some variations are Cognitive Processing Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. Find a practitioner.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy helps a patient overcome the fear and anxiety of a trauma by re-experiencing elements of it in a safe environment, using imagination and sometimes virtual reality. It is often used by cognitive therapists.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) uses sound, motion, touch, even a pencil to direct a client’s eyes back and forth, thus integrating parts of the brain; memories emerge, but without a heavy emotional charge. A key part of Veterans Administration therapy, it is recommended by the World Health Organization. Some studies show that 84 to 90 percent of single-trauma victims no longer have PTSD after three, 90-minute sessions. Find a practitioner.
Brainspotting is an emerging outgrowth of EMDR that involves helping a client fixate on a location in the eye that pinpoints specific traumatic memories. Research is scant, but suggests it may be as or more effective than EMDR. Find a practitioner.
Somatic Experiencing has a client pendulate between subtle sensations of trauma in the body and safe, peaceful feelings, which allows the trauma to be gently released. Although extensive research remains to be done, more than 120,000 professionals in 30 countries have been formally trained in it. Find a practitioner.
Internal Family Systems explores different “parts” of a personality held together by a benevolent core consciousness, which allows those parts damaged and hurt by trauma to express themselves and feel self-compassion. It is recommended by leading trauma theorist Bessel van der Kolk. Find a practitioner.
Emotional Freedom Technique shows a client how to tap certain rhythms related to acupuncture meridians on the face and the rest of the body while actively reframing traumatic memories. In a small study of veterans with PTSD, 86 percent no longer met diagnostic criteria after six, one-hour sessions. Find a practitioner.
Psychedelics are emerging therapies for PTSD, with psilocybin (magic mushrooms), ketamine and LSD potentially offering deep healing when administered under the supervision of a trained therapist. MDMA is the closest to obtaining U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval: carefully designed Phase 2 and initial Phase 3 clinical trials show two-thirds of PTSD patients shedding debilitating symptoms. For more information, visit the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
Trauma-informed Yoga focuses on grounding practices to restore disrupted physical sensations rather than emphasizing poses themselves and has proven helpful for sexual assault victims and veterans. Dozens of teacher certification programs exist, and it can be done virtually at home.
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