What Trauma Therapy Is And Isn’t

Trauma therapy is a process that psychologists use, and it has developed an unfair reputation due to its depiction in media— especially film and TV. Contrary to what you've seen on the screen, trauma therapy services aren't centered on making clients relive terrible moments again. Instead, the goal is to find ways for them to lead healthier lives, and some methods have surprisingly little to do with discussing the trauma itself. Before you consult with a practitioner, it's a good idea to know a bit about what trauma is and isn't.

Discussing Bad Things

Highly discussion-driven versions of trauma therapy are, at best, outmoded and, at worst, misrepresentations of the process. Modern trauma theory is grounded in the notion that many of the feelings surrounding bad events are stored in the body and in less-conscious parts of the brain. In fact, many therapists worry that excessive focus on trauma in and of itself can reactivate the trauma and do harm to the client.


The earliest phase of trauma therapy is centered on making sure the client is safe. To this end, a lot of work is done to help them self-regulate their feelings and responses. For example, a former combat soldier who is suffering from PTSD may need to be re-acclimated to the idea that they don't have to be on constant alert when they're home. A therapist may discuss with them ways to keep emotions from flooding in during stressful moments, reducing the odds that they'll reactivate traumas or even create new ones.

If drugs are going to be prescribed, it is likely to happen during this phase. That's especially the case if a person is suffering from conditions that can erode their ability to self-regulate, such as sleeplessness.

Working on Strengths

When coping with trauma, it's critical to identify strengths that can be leveraged when coping. If a client is highly physically active, for example, exercise may be utilized to activate some of the body's natural mechanisms for relaxation. Personal activities that are self-affirming—such as art, certain kinds of hard work, or even individual interests—can be employed to provide the client with focus, structure, and calmness.

Once a client has gotten their immediate concerns under control, structure is used to address bigger topics, such as relationship issues, employment difficulties, and other challenges. If overt processing of trauma is deemed necessary by the therapist, it will occur at this stage.