The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.

The word “trauma” is one that most of us are now familiar with. What was once heard primarily
in sensationalized news stories and doctor’s offices has become fairly normal to discuss, even among those who may not feel comfortable with the use of counseling and therapy. While trauma may not be uncommon to discuss, healing from trauma is not quite as common, and many are still largely unfamiliar with the most common treatments available for trauma, and may not trust that counseling and therapy are useful interventions for trauma symptoms. Does counseling really work?

The Role of Counseling Following Trauma

Counseling is often recommended for those who have experienced trauma, but often with little to no explanation of or expounding upon why counseling can be an invaluable part of follow-up treatment. Trauma is defined as any strong and persistent emotional response to a hazardous or harmful event. Traumatic events can include natural disasters and near-death situations, but can also include seemingly “smaller” experiences, such as food insecurity, the loss of a loved one, and bullying. A traumatic response is an emotional answer to these events that does not resolve appropriately or within an expected time frame, along with symptoms such as flashbacks, changes to memory or personality, avoidant behaviors, and even physical reactions such as pain and nausea. Counseling is a vehicle through which those who have undergone trauma may process and heal the trauma response in order to improve quality of life and mitigate ongoing symptoms.

Common Types of Trauma Counseling

There are different types of trauma counseling available, and each of them approaches healing from trauma in a different way. The most common trauma therapies are those that focus on talk therapy, or therapy that focuses on a back-and-forth between a client and therapist in order to process what occurred, and develop healthy coping strategies for dealing with the aftermath. There are other trauma therapy approaches that seek to restructure or “rewire” the brain in order to soothe the traumatic upset that occurs after the event has taken place. These approaches to therapy are usually specifically called “trauma therapy,” and include practices like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and exposure therapy. In all approaches, the goal is to limit the reach of the body and brain’s response to the trauma, and improve quality of life.

Does Trauma Counseling Work?

When trauma has occurred, it can feel impossible to move on. Many of the thoughts and behaviors that follow trauma are ingrained, and people may not be aware of the changes that have taken place in their bodies and brains in the wake of a traumatic experience (or a sequence of events). Fortunately, trauma therapy has been shown to be enormously helpful in navigating the ups and downs associated with traumatic experiences, and can help people learn healthy coping habits, develop a strong trauma response for future incidences, and drastically improve their quality of life by limiting the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and even personality disorders that have been linked to traumatic experiences.

The precise type of counseling that will work best for you depends on the type of trauma you experienced, and your goals for counseling—all of which you can learn more about here. If your goal is a rapid and succinct de-escalation of physical sensations and mental reactions to triggers, trauma therapies like EMDR can be extremely helpful. If your goal is to process a trauma that occurred, better understand yourself and the individual (or individuals) who perpetrated the incident, and develop healthier thought processes and behavior patterns, a therapy like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) may be a better option. People with goals reaching across both of these approaches can utilize several different types of trauma interventions to glean the best results.

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