What is a Trauma-Informed Therapist?

What is a Trauma-Informed TherapistA 1995 study of 17,000 patients conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uncovered a startling discovery: nearly two-thirds of them had experienced one or more traumatic experiences during their childhoods. In times past, many therapists didn’t take these traumatic experiences into consideration when they treated their clients.

However, things have changed. As more information about trauma has come out, many therapists have added trauma-informed therapy practices to their protocols. These therapists are called trauma-informed therapists.

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Causes of Trauma

Trauma and its effects have been called by many names, according to Psychology Today. Soldiers who took part in the Civil War were said to suffer from “nostalgia” or “soldier’s heart” when they display the symptoms of trauma. During the Second World War, trauma symptoms were called “shell shock.” Nowadays, people usually call this condition Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

These names reveal at least one cause of trauma: war. However, according to an article on Help Guide, many events besides war can cause the symptoms of trauma. People who have been the victims of a violent attack or experienced traumatic events, like a severe accident can develop trauma symptoms.

Additionally, those who live with unrelenting high-stress situations, like domestic violence or neglect, can also become traumatized. Manmade or natural disasters, like earthquakes or fire, can bring on trauma symptoms, as can some experiences that get overlooked. These experiences can include a breakup, the death of a loved one or even surgery.

Trauma-Informed Therapy

Trauma-informed therapy and by extension, trauma-informed therapists, centers around helping clients who have experienced trauma. While some therapies, like EMDR, specifically address trauma, trauma-informed therapy permeates every aspect of the therapy experience. The trauma-informed therapist works with the client to help him or her re-establish a sense of safety because traumatic events caused people to feel unsafe in the world.

A trauma-informed therapist also attempts to address the trauma and the symptoms of it. One of the goals of trauma-informed therapy is to help the client overcome the trauma.

The therapist attempts to help the client develop new coping skills and celebrates the strengths that the client has developed as a result of his or her experiences. The therapist will introduce activities in therapy that address all of the myriad issues caused by the traumatic experience as well, according to Northwestern University.

Trauma Symptoms

Trauma symptoms are numerous, and trauma-informed therapists have been trained to look for them. Physically, therapy clients can exhibit symptoms like fatigue, nightmares, muscle tension, agitation, a heightened startle response, difficulty sleeping or a racing heart. Additionally, trauma-informed therapists now look at behaviors, like self-harm, as possible indicators of trauma.

Additionally, clients who express the emotional symptoms of trauma can experience confusion or difficulty with concentration, feelings of hopelessness or numbness, shock, mood swings, anger or guilt, and shame. The therapist can look to these and other symptoms to guide their approach to trauma therapy.

Final Thoughts

Traumatic experiences – also called adverse childhood experiences – can shape who people become and can be the cause of many mental and physical health issues. Therapists who specialize in the treatment of trauma work create trauma-informed therapy protocols to help their clients overcome past traumas. These trauma-informed therapists strive to help their clients develop an appreciation for the strengths they’ve developed as a result of their experiences and to eventually heal from the trauma.