Nervous, 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.