Treatment of Trauma in Therapy, Part II: How It Should Look

therapist talking to clientIn Part I of this series, we covered common myths and misconceptions that are often associated with the treatment of trauma. It is equally important to know how to find a therapist who is appropriately trained to treat trauma and to know what good trauma therapy is supposed to look like.

Know the Different Types of Treatment and How They Work

There are different ways of treating trauma. It is important to know what each method involves and how successful each is in relieving trauma symptoms. Do research to learn more about various forms of treatment, and select peer-reviewed studies from reliable sources to verify the success rate of each.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is the most effective modality in my experience, as it seemingly provides the most relief in the shortest period of time. But just because that is my experience does not mean that EMDR is the modality for you. I encourage people to do research for themselves. Other treatment modalities include trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, narrative therapy, and exposure therapy.

You can start with a search on a reliable website (such as GoodTherapy.org) in order to learn about different treatments and what they entail. Doing a Google search can also bring up research and information, but beware that not all sources will be reliable. Look at studies published by scholarly journals. Look up the governing and certifying bodies for each type of treatment to get additional information.

Know What to Look for in a Therapist

Looking for and finding a good therapist can be confusing and challenging. There are therapists out there who claim that they can treat any issue under the sun. The fact is that going to graduate school may prepare a therapist to start providing mental health services, but there are some issues that require additional training. Trauma treatment is one of the challenges for which therapists should have extensive training and supervision. A therapist who has not completed the additional training necessary can cause harm without knowing that he or she is doing so.

When looking for a trauma therapist, you should ask what kind of training the therapist has had and through which institution(s) the training came. For example, a therapist who is trained in EMDR should have been trained through either the EMDR Institute or through EMDR humanitarian assistance programs. If the trauma is complex, it may be beneficial to find a therapist who is additionally certified through EMDRIA, the certification body for EMDR.

Make sure that whichever modality you choose, the therapist you see has the appropriate training to provide the services he or she says can be provided.

Schedule a Consultation and Ask Questions

Once you find a modality you think might work for you and find a therapist who is trained and/or certified in that area, call and ask if you can have a consultation to see if the therapist would be a good fit. Many therapists offer a 10- or 15-minute consultation for this purpose. This can be done in person or, typically, over the phone. It gives you a chance to present what you would like to work on and gives the therapist a chance to assess whether he or she would be a good fit for you. A good therapist is never opposed to referring a client that he or she is not able to appropriately treat.

What Good Trauma Therapy Should Include

Once you engage in the therapeutic relationship, make sure that the following things are happening to ensure that you are getting the best care possible. Good trauma therapy always includes:

  • Safety, meaning the therapy room and the therapist you are working with feel safe to bring up trauma-related issues
  • A therapist who is open to feedback and flexibility in adjusting the treatment plan and goals according to how you are feeling
  • Research-based education about trauma and why trauma symptoms occur after a traumatic event
  • Coping skills and tools to use between sessions
  • A plan for what to do and who to contact if trauma symptoms resurface or worsen between sessions

What Good Trauma Therapy Should Not Include

Watch out for these red flags:

  • An environment and relationship with the therapist that does not feel safe
  • A therapist who is not willing to alter the treatment plan
  • Concerns and questions not being answered or taken seriously
  • Lack of education and skills about trauma and how to cope between sessions
  • A therapist who is not open to sharing information about his or her credentials and training

It has been my experience that with the right therapist and type of therapy, trauma symptoms can be eliminated. Therapy works and is extremely beneficial. Knowing what to look for can make a huge difference in having a good experience with trauma therapy.

For more about what good therapy should look like, click here.

© 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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  • Catrina

    Catrina

    June 17th, 2014 at 3:20 PM

    I have never thought anything about giving medical providers kind of a test drive like you do cares, but I guess they have my health care in their hands so why wouldn’t I want to do that? I guess when it comes down to it it kind of intimidates meto ask questions of someone who is a professional and has been to school for all of this, to look at them and ask why I should be a patient of theirs and not of someone else. I don’t know why, but it would make me feel really small, like I am questioning their ability to care for me. But then again this is my body, my life, my mind, so why shouldn’t I seek out the very best to care for it?

  • dawson p

    dawson p

    June 18th, 2014 at 4:14 AM

    I would have thought that the recommendation of a friend would be a good place to start, but looking at that it makes me consider that this isn’t always the right move and that what is going to be right to someone else may not fit your needs at all. This is why it is critical to meet with some professionals by yourself, schedule a little time to get to know them and then make your decision about whom you would like to work with.
    This is a big deal, therapy, and you want to work with someone that you can forge a relationship with that can really benefit you in numeraous positive ways. You don’t have to settle for someone who is just okay, you need someone that is perfect for your needs at this time.

  • Scottie

    Scottie

    June 18th, 2014 at 12:06 PM

    It is also important to do a little homework and find what form of therapy sounds like it would be the most intriguing for you and find someone who is licensed in that method of treatment.

  • Nyssa

    Nyssa

    June 19th, 2014 at 9:35 AM

    I agree that it’s important to find someone who is experienced in dealing with trauma survivors, but I think that finding a person you can work with is more important than choosing a modality. When I was looking for help, I looked for someone with whom I could connect first. Since he’s the one with a doctorate in psychology and I only had two psych courses in undergrad, I figured he would be better positioned to know the right approach to help me heal. He uses an eclectic approach that has made a world of difference for me.

    We check in regularly on how things are going, and if I wasn’t happy with my progress, we’d talk about that and he would shift his approach. In fact, he has shifted his approach over time, as my needs have changed.

    If I had looked for someone based solely on their preferred treatment modalities, I doubt my therapy would have been nearly as productive.

  • Nolan

    Nolan

    June 19th, 2014 at 1:34 PM

    You may not have an easy conversation with the therapist at the first meeting but I know that I would feel the ability to open up continue to grow after several meetings if this was the right person for me. There has to be a building of trust and I don’t see that someone who is good at what they do is going to try to force this trust relationship on you. He or she will be willing to let this progress and grow at a pace that will be comfortable for you and they will know when it is alright to push and when they should probably pull back. As a patient I think that you will be able to feel that and you will learn that this is a safe place for you to open up and share your experiences with this other person who wants to help you heal.

  • angelique

    angelique

    June 20th, 2014 at 4:21 AM

    Most people looking to get into therapy when they have been through a traumatic life experience are not going to be thinking about what type of treatment or madality that they want to pursue. Most of us would simply be thinking that we want to start feeling better and we will search for someone who can help us with that. If, as you become more educated about the process or feel like you are not making sufficient person with the first therapist then I think that at point that would be a great time to start researching some of the other stuff and maybe seeking someone with a different approach. In the beginning though I think that it is all about embracing the need for change and finding someone who can help you jumpstart that journey.

  • Monet M

    Monet M

    June 21st, 2014 at 8:41 AM

    I always see so much information and references to EMDR on here that it makes me curious to elarn more about it. It sounds like it can provide relief for those who have trued other things but have gotten no real satisfaction nor progress from them.

  • kellan

    kellan

    June 23rd, 2014 at 4:56 PM

    it could be just as important to know what therapy should NOT be as it is to know what it SHOULD be

  • Millicent

    Millicent

    June 24th, 2014 at 3:20 PM

    Basically it is all about discovering both a setting and person that you feel comfortable sharing with. You have to figure out what feels right for you, and not matter what anyone else thinks then this is what you need to go with. This is the thing that is going to help pull you though this, at your own pace, at your own speed, and in your own time.

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