Treatment of Trauma in Therapy, Part I: Five Common Myths

The bridgeNervous, anxious, apprehensive, hopeless, and scared are common emotions a person may feel when thinking about seeking help to resolve trauma. There are several myths, misperceptions, and assumptions out there that prevent people from seeking much-needed help. This means that people who have been through a traumatic event are living with distress and disturbance for longer than is necessary.

Awareness and dispelling of misperceptions, as well as learning what good trauma therapy should look like (which I will cover in part II), are vital in removing barriers that prevent people from getting the help they may desperately need.

Myth No. 1: I will have to relive my trauma and I will be retraumatized.

I can understand why this would be concerning. Who wants to relive something that was traumatic? I wouldn’t. A good, well-trained trauma therapist will be able to utilize techniques to ensure that a person is not retraumatized as a result of therapy. I utilize eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), as I have experienced that it helps to keep a person “present” while allowing the brain and body to work through the trauma utilizing the person’s own inner resources and natural abilities. During this type of treatment, the person does not have to tell the story in great detail and relive the ordeal. Instead, he or she can simply focus on small parts of the experience and work through each one at a time with the therapist’s help and guidance.

Myth No. 2: No therapist can handle all of my trauma and emotions. It is just too much.

A good trauma therapist has been trained to help people work through the most difficult of issues. Therapists who specialize in treating trauma are accustomed to hearing about intense experiences and emotions. Your job as a person in therapy is to work toward healing. This may mean you have to remind yourself that your therapist is trained to help people work through difficult material. Any therapist who feels he or she cannot properly treat you should make a referral to a more appropriate therapist.

Myth No. 3: It won’t work. Nothing can help.

Research makes a pretty strong argument in favor of therapy helping people with trauma to lessen disturbance and symptoms related to the traumatic event and to move forward with their lives. For example, a study conducted by Bradley, et al. (2005) found that a majority of people who participated in psychotherapy for trauma recovered or improved. In another study, Marcus, Marquis, and Sakai (1997)discovered that 100% of people who had experienced one trauma no longer displayed symptoms of PTSD after six sessions of therapy (utilizing EMDR). Eighty percent of people in the same study who had experienced multiple traumatic events also did not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD after the same six sessions.

My own experience has been that people get better with therapy. I have seen over and over people come to see me with issues they feel will never be resolved. I have had people who experienced horrors that most can’t fathom work through those experiences and take back control of their lives. They leave therapy as if they have been reborn, shedding the trauma symptoms and emotional turmoil they have experienced for so long to emerge into their true self, strong and resilient. The bottom line: therapy works, and I wish more people would decide to get the help.

Myth No. 4: It will take too much effort, time, and money to go to therapy.

Holding onto traumatic material (emotions, memories, thoughts, etc.) is exhausting to the system. Think about a brain that constantly feels as though it must be on guard because of the threat of harm, which is where the traumatized brain quickly goes when memories, thoughts, and emotions are triggered. Having a body and brain that are exhausted all the time affects one’s ability to be productive and effective in reaching his or her daily and life goals, which can also affect one’s ability to be prosperous. I would argue that it costs one more effort, time, and money to NOT engage in therapy after trauma than it does to just do it.

Myth No. 5: The therapist will judge me if I tell him or her what happened.

A good therapist does not judge a person in therapy in any area, including behaviors, thoughts, and experiences. A therapist who is well trained in treating trauma has been prepared to help people who have experienced a wide array of difficulties and traumatic experiences. If you feel judged by your therapist, talk to him or her about it if it feels safe to do so. If it does not feel safe, a change in therapist may be necessary in order for you to work on your trauma without the fear of judgment.

It is important when thinking about getting into therapy that you express all of your concerns to the therapist. It is OK to be apprehensive and curious about the therapeutic process. The more you clarify and ask questions, the better. Once any assumptions, misperceptions, or myths are addressed, you can be on your way to relief from your symptoms.

References:

  1. Bradley, R., Greene, J., Russ, E., Dutra, L, and Westin, D. (2005). A multidimensional meta-analysis of psychotherapy for PTSD. American Journal of Psychiatry, 162 (2), pp 214-227.
  2. Marcus, S., Marquis, P., and Sakai, C. (1997).Controlled study of treatment of PTSD using EMDR in an HMO setting. Psychotherapy, 34, 307-315. Funded by Kaiser Permanente. Retrieved April 28, 2014 from www.emdr.com

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Anastasia Pollock, LCMHC, therapist in Midvale, Utah

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jarvis

    Jarvis

    May 13th, 2014 at 10:18 AM

    To make the most difference in therapy i think that you have to go into it with the mindset that this can work, that it can make a difference, and that you are working with somone who will not intentionally hurt you or cause you any harm in any way. I think that if you are not able to go into it with that kind os mindset then you are not ready to have your life changed for the better. You have to be at a point where you may not be healed but you are willing to accept that healing when it does come. I think that the people who end up quitting or hate going to therapy are those who just aren’t ready yet to make those serious leaps into recovery that you need to be ready for if therapy is actually going to be a positive thing for you.

  • Amy Armstrong

    Amy Armstrong

    May 13th, 2014 at 12:28 PM

    Thank you for the terrific post, Anastasia. You hit on so many of the things trauma survivors experience. Sometimes, I’ve reminded people who are hesitant about getting help processing traumatic experiences that having PTSD means walking around upset all day, every day even if it doesn’t show. So while it’s true that even with EMDR, you might be upset for a moment, maybe even an hour, it also means finally getting some relief.

  • lora

    lora

    May 14th, 2014 at 7:41 AM

    I thought to have a therapist truly understand where you are coming from then this would indeed mean having to relive that trauma over again.
    I know that it would be in a safe place but you would have to go back and explain what you are thinking about and experiencing for him or her to be able to help you.

  • Rasheed

    Rasheed

    May 14th, 2014 at 10:37 AM

    Even if you don’t have a whole lot of money there are other ways to find therapy that could fit into your budget. There are many meetings and groups in some communities that are created to help those who have lower levels of income, and you are already on this website which is filled with resources. There are ways around this and ways to get treatment even if you don’t think that you have either the time or thr money to do it. If this is something that really bothers you then you owe it to yourself to try to get some help.

  • Jules

    Jules

    May 15th, 2014 at 3:41 AM

    If I am seriously rehashing all of this then maybe it is an indicator that I am not ready for therapy yet.

    I just don’t think that going to therapy should ever cause this much pain and anxiety.

  • Anastasia Pollock

    Anastasia Pollock

    June 4th, 2014 at 12:26 PM

    Thanks for all your comments. Iora, the good news is you don’t have to rehash every detail in order for the therapist to understand what you are going through. A well-trained trauma therapist can do conceptualization and treatment planning with just the main bullet points.

    Trauma therapy can be work but I have found it is not as much work as trying to work through trauma alone. I know that it will actually relieve pain and anxiety as I have seen it do for a countless number of clients.

  • Marshall Gordon

    Marshall Gordon

    September 1st, 2014 at 12:21 PM

    I have been in therapy which did uncover trauma in my past. However, contrary to what is stated in the article, I was badly retraumatized by the process.

    It might have been better for me to focus my therapy on the effects of the trauma and target those, rather than the endless discussion of what happened and how I felt and now feel about it. I guess there was a good reason for me to have buried the memories – given the overwhelming distress I feel now.

    Be careful with psychotherapy. It helps many, but there is no mechanism to police the industry to cull out bad therapy regimes.

  • Elizabeth

    Elizabeth

    March 14th, 2015 at 11:30 PM

    You might consider reviewing Sidran.org’s information on choosing a trauma therapist. Although mental health practitioners are licensed to treat a wide variety of mental and emotional conditions, relatively few have specialized expertise in treating trauma, especially childhood-based trauma. The good news is that more awareness and in-depth training opportunities are making appropriate treatment more available. It may take several attempts to find what you need – Don’t give up!

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