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Understanding Trauma Therapy Treatment Options

By Ian Robertson

April 15, 2024

A therapist comforting a distressed man during a therapy session.


In my years of practice, I’ve come to understand that the journey through trauma is profoundly personal. The fabric of each individual’s experience is woven with unique threads – biological, psychological, environmental, and beyond. As such, the path to healing cannot be uniform; it must be as distinct as the person walking it. At Ian Robertson Therapy & Counselling, we prioritize this personalized approach, ensuring that every treatment plan we devise is finely attuned to the individual’s needs, history, and the nuances of their trauma. This blog aims to shed light on the various facets of trauma therapy, offering insights into how we, as mental health clinicians, can navigate this complex terrain to provide effective, compassionate care. Let’s delve into the different types of trauma therapy and the critical factors that shape our therapeutic strategies.

What is Trauma and Its Impact on Mental Health

Trauma is a term that is often used in conversations about mental health, but what exactly does it mean?

“Trauma refers to a distressing or disturbing experience or event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope.”

It can have a significant impact on mental health, leading to symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Trauma can disrupt the brain’s normal functioning and affect the body’s stress response system, leading to a range of physical and emotional symptoms. Understanding trauma and its impact on mental health is crucial for providing effective trauma therapy.

Defining Trauma: A Comprehensive Overview

To understand trauma and its impact on mental health, it’s essential to have a comprehensive overview of what trauma entails. Trauma can result from a wide range of experiences, including physical or sexual abuse, natural disasters, accidents, war, or witnessing violence. Trauma can stem not only from singular, impactful events but also from prolonged situations like domestic violence, bullying, or neglect. These traumatic experiences can deeply affect an individual’s mental, emotional, and physical health, often disrupting brain function and leading to a range of symptoms. Individuals may experience intrusive thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, and a state of constant alertness, known as hyperarousal. Understanding the nuances of trauma is crucial in providing effective therapy. Trauma can be categorized into acute, resulting from a single traumatic incident; chronic, emerging from enduring or repeated traumatic experiences; and complex, often linked to extended abuse or neglect during childhood. This distinction is vital in customizing the therapeutic approach to meet the unique needs of each individual.

How Trauma Affects the Brain and Body

Trauma can have profound effects on both the brain and body. When an individual experiences a traumatic event, the brain’s stress response system becomes activated, releasing stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This activation can lead to heightened arousal, increased vigilance, and a fight-or-flight response.

During a traumatic event, the amygdala, which is responsible for processing emotions, can become overactive, leading to fear and anxiety. The prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making and regulating emotions, may become impaired, resulting in difficulties with emotional regulation and memory.

Additionally, trauma can affect the body, leading to physical symptoms such as headaches, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal issues, and an increased risk of chronic health conditions. Understanding how trauma affects the brain and body is crucial for trauma therapy, as it helps inform the therapeutic techniques used to address trauma-related symptoms and promote healing.

Introduction to Trauma Therapy

Trauma therapy, or trauma-focused therapy, is a specific approach to therapy that is built on the understanding of how traumatic experiences affect an individual’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. This type of therapy aims to help children, adolescents, and adult survivors heal from the effects of trauma.

There are three main primary types of trauma that patients may be dealing with:

1. Acute Trauma stems from a singular traumatic experience, such as an accident, natural disaster, or sexual assault. 
2. Chronic Trauma occurs when an individual experiences multiple, long-term, and/or prolonged traumatic events. 
3. Complex Trauma typically refers to prolonged abuse or neglect that occurs during childhood and is often perpetrated by a caregiver or someone in a position of authority.

The Role of Therapy in Healing from Trauma

Therapy plays a crucial role in the healing process for individuals who have experienced trauma. As a therapist specialized in trauma-focused therapy, I understand how important it is to create a safe and supportive environment for individuals to explore their traumatic experiences, process their emotions, and develop healthier coping skills. 

At Ian Robertson Therapy Group we help individuals understand, confront, and eventually overcome the symptoms of their traumatic experiences. We provide a space for individuals to share their stories, express their emotions, and receive validation and support. Through our trauma therapy, individuals can gain insight into the impact of trauma on their lives and develop strategies for healing and recovery.

Differentiating Trauma Therapy from Regular Therapy

Trauma therapy differs from regular therapy in that it specifically focuses on addressing the effects of traumatic experiences. While regular therapy may address a range of mental health concerns, trauma therapy is tailored to the unique needs of individuals who have experienced trauma. Trauma therapy incorporates evidence-based techniques and interventions that are specifically designed to address trauma-related symptoms and promote healing. For example, trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) is a type of therapy that combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with trauma-focused interventions to help individuals process and cope with their traumatic experiences. Regular therapy, on the other hand, may involve a broader range of therapeutic approaches and techniques that are not specifically focused on trauma. It’s important to differentiate between trauma therapy and regular therapy to ensure that individuals receive the appropriate treatment for their trauma-related symptoms and experiences.

Overview of Trauma Therapy Techniques

There are various core trauma therapy techniques we use at Ian Robertson Therapy Group that are commonly used to address trauma-related symptoms. These techniques include:

• Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)
• Prolonged exposure therapy (PE)
• Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
• Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT)
• Brainspotting (BSP)
• Polyvagal Therapy
• Structural Dissociation Ego State Therapy
• Trauma-Informed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
• Safe Sound Protocol
• Schema Therapy

Each technique has its unique approach and focuses on different aspects of trauma processing and recovery. These techniques are evidence-based and have been shown to be effective in reducing trauma-related symptoms and promoting healing. If you are interested in learning more about these core techniques you can reach me by filling in the form at the bottom of the page or visiting our trauma therapy page.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) Explained

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a type of trauma therapy that focuses on helping individuals change unhelpful beliefs and thoughts about their traumatic experiences. It is based on the understanding that the way individuals think about and interpret their trauma can impact their emotional well-being and recovery. CPT involves identifying and challenging negative or distorted thoughts related to the trauma and replacing them with more accurate and adaptive thoughts. The goal of CPT is to help individuals develop a more balanced and realistic understanding of their trauma and its effects. This type of therapy can be beneficial for individuals who have experienced a range of traumas, including sexual assault, domestic violence, and combat-related trauma.

The Principles of Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE)

Prolonged exposure therapy (PE) is a trauma therapy technique that aims to help individuals confront and overcome their avoidance behaviors and fear responses related to their trauma. The goal of PE is to reduce the power of traumatic memories and reminders by gradually exposing individuals to the traumatic event in a safe and controlled manner. This exposure can take various forms, such as imaginal exposure, where individuals mentally revisit the traumatic event, and in vivo exposure, where individuals confront real-life situations or triggers associated with the traumatic event. Through repeated exposure, individuals can learn that the traumatic event is no longer a current threat and develop new ways of thinking and responding to trauma-related cues. PE has been shown to be effective in reducing trauma-related symptoms and improving overall functioning.

Understanding Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a trauma therapy technique that incorporates eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation to help individuals process and integrate traumatic memories. EMDR is based on the idea that traumatic memories and associated negative beliefs can become “stuck” and not fully processed, leading to distressing symptoms. During an EMDR session, individuals focus on the traumatic memory while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation, such as following the therapist’s finger with their eyes. This bilateral stimulation is believed to facilitate the processing and integration of the traumatic memory, leading to a reduction in distressing symptoms. EMDR is often used for individuals who have experienced single-event traumas, such as accidents, assaults, or natural disasters. It has been shown to be effective in reducing trauma-related symptoms and promoting healing.

The Effectiveness of Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TF-CBT)

Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) is a highly effective trauma therapy technique that integrates cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with trauma-focused interventions. TF-CBT aims to help individuals process and cope with their traumatic experiences by addressing the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral aspects of trauma. This type of therapy incorporates techniques such as psychoeducation, cognitive restructuring, exposure therapy, and relaxation skills to help individuals develop new ways of thinking and responding to trauma-related triggers. TF-CBT is often used for children, adolescents, and adult survivors of trauma. It has been shown to be effective in reducing trauma-related symptoms, improving overall functioning, and promoting healing. TF-CBT typically involves a structured treatment plan and can be offered in individual, group, or family therapy formats, depending on the individual’s needs and preferences.

Recognizing When You Need Trauma Therapy

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma is crucial in seeking therapy and support. Trauma can have a significant impact on mental health, and being aware of these indicators is essential for seeking professional help. Below we talk about the common signs we see in people who have been affected by trauma.

Displaying signs of mental trauma, looking distressed and overwhelmed.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Trauma

Trauma can manifest in a variety of signs and symptoms that can significantly impact an individual’s mental and emotional well-being. Some common signs of trauma include intrusive thoughts or memories of the traumatic event, nightmares, flashbacks, and a sense of reliving the traumatic experience. Individuals may also experience avoidance behaviors, such as avoiding places, people, or activities that remind them of the trauma. They may also exhibit symptoms of hypervigilance, constantly being on edge and easily startled. Trauma can also lead to changes in mood and behavior, including feelings of anxiety, depression, irritability, anger, and a sense of detachment from others. Physical symptoms such as headaches, sleep disturbances, and gastrointestinal issues may also be present. Recognizing these signs and symptoms is crucial for identifying when trauma therapy may be beneficial in addressing and healing from the traumatic experiences.

The Therapeutic Journey: What to Expect

Embarking on a therapeutic journey to address and heal from trauma can be a transformative experience. The therapeutic journey typically involves an initial consultation, where the therapist and individual discuss the individual’s history, trauma experiences, and goals for therapy. From there, the therapeutic journey progresses through different stages, such as assessment, stabilization, processing, and integration. Each stage of the therapeutic journey is tailored to the individual’s specific needs and may involve various therapeutic techniques and interventions. The therapeutic journey is a collaborative process, with the therapist providing guidance, support, and a safe space for the individual to explore and process their traumatic experiences. It’s important to remember that the therapeutic journey is unique to each individual, and the pace and duration of therapy may vary depending on the individual’s needs and progress.

Stages of Trauma Therapy: An Overview

Trauma therapy typically involves different stages that guide the healing process. These stages may vary depending on the individual’s needs and the therapeutic approach used. The stages of trauma therapy often include assessment, stabilization, processing, and integration. During the assessment stage, the therapist gathers information about the individual’s trauma history, symptoms, and goals for therapy. The stabilization stage focuses on developing coping skills and strategies to manage trauma-related symptoms and promote a sense of safety and stability. The processing stage involves exploring and processing the traumatic memories and emotions associated with the trauma. Finally, the integration stage focuses on integrating the healing work into the individual’s daily life and fostering long-term resilience. Each stage of trauma therapy is designed to support the individual’s healing journey and promote overall well-being.

Benefits of Undergoing Trauma Therapy

Trauma therapy offers a multitude of benefits, serving as a cornerstone for individuals looking to heal and rebuild after traumatic experiences. It creates a nurturing environment where individuals can confront and diminish trauma-related symptoms, fostering personal growth and resilience. This therapeutic journey encourages the exploration and processing of emotions, leading to newfound coping skills, enhanced self-worth, and the breaking of negative belief cycles. Additionally, trauma therapy plays a pivotal role in reshaping relationships and social connections, helping individuals overcome trust barriers and improve communication, which in turn enriches their overall well-being and life satisfaction. Through Ian Robertson Therapy & Counselling, trauma therapy becomes a transformative pathway to regaining control, nurturing resilience, and embracing a more fulfilling life.


Trauma therapy offers a path to healing and resilience. By understanding trauma’s impact on mental health and exploring specialized techniques like CPT, PE, EMDR, and TF-CBT, individuals can embark on a journey towards personal growth and improved relationships. Recognizing the signs of trauma and seeking therapy when needed are crucial steps in this process. The therapeutic journey may vary, but the benefits of trauma therapy include building resilience and enhancing social connectivity. If you’re considering trauma therapy, know that it’s a brave step towards healing and self-discovery.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does Trauma Therapy Typically Last?

The duration of trauma therapy varies widely, tailored to each individual’s unique needs and healing journey. Typically, it may last anywhere from eight to 25 sessions, with the frequency ranging from weekly to biweekly. The specific duration and speed are determined by the type of trauma, the therapeutic method used, and the individual’s advancement and receptiveness to treatment. Generally, sessions usually span from 1 to 2 hours.

Which therapy is best for trauma?

There isn’t one therapy that is universally considered the best for trauma. Different therapies, such as cognitive processing therapy (CPT), prolonged exposure therapy (PE), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), have shown effectiveness in treating trauma-related symptoms. The choice of therapy depends on the individual’s specific needs and preferences.

How is trauma treated in therapy?

Trauma is treated in therapy through various evidence-based techniques and interventions. These may include cognitive processing therapy (CPT), prolonged exposure therapy (PE), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), and other approaches tailored to the individual’s needs. Therapy aims to help individuals to process their traumatic experiences, address trauma-related symptoms, and promote healing.

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