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Trauma Therapy: Types, Techniques, And Benefits

trauma therapy and therapy for PTSD

Over 50% of people will experience a trauma in their lives. From that, 1 in 3 people will develop PTSD. Fortunately, clinical PTSD is a treatable mental health condition, with at least 50% of people making a full recovery within 12 months of experiencing the trauma and 77% making a full recovery after 24 months. 

The first step to recovering from PTSD and trauma is understanding what trauma treatment looks like. This extensive guide goes over trauma definition, types of trauma, trauma therapy techniques, and how to heal from trauma. 

If you are struggling with trauma or PTSD, know that you are not alone. What happened to you is not your fault. With the right treatment, recovery and healing are possible. 

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or want to talk to someone ASAP, these hotlines are available for you. Text 988 or chat online. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, call 911 immediately.

What Is Trauma?

Trauma is our emotional reaction to an intensely stressful, disturbing, or harmful event. Our body produces a trauma response to protect ourselves from the awful things we experience. This often looks like a fight-or-flight response, and our bodies are pumped with adrenaline to get us out of the dangerous situation as quickly as possible. However, as well-intentioned as this built-in protection plan is, it can result in many distressing symptoms like anxiety, flashbacks, irritability, nightmares, and more.

Trauma is not the same as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Most people will experience some sort of trauma, which we’ll discuss below, but only 1 in 3 of those people will develop the mental health disorder known as PTSD. 

Researchers don’t know for sure why only some people develop PTSD. Risk factors for PTSD include:

  • Women 
  • Combat Veterans 
  • Family history of PTSD 
  • Previous traumatic experiences, especially in childhood
  • Having little support system after the trauma
  • First responders such as firefighters or EMTs

Examples of a traumatic event can include:

  • Sexual assault
  • Physical assault
  • Domestic violence
  • Natural disaster
  • Emotional abuse or neglect 
  • Combat 
  • Car Wreck  
  • Injury resulting in hospitalization 
  • Witnessing bodily harm or death 

This is not an exhaustive list. How one person experiences trauma could be different than how another person does. Trauma is a unique, personal reaction to a stressful, dangerous event, and can vary widely from person to person.

Types of Trauma

Understanding what type of trauma you experienced will help you and your therapist arrive on the right type of trauma therapy technique. The three main types of trauma are:

  • Acute trauma: A single traumatic event, like a house fire, car crash, or sexual assault
  • Chronic trauma: Prolonged, pervasive trauma like wartime, poverty, or domestic abuse
  • Complex trauma: A child’s exposure to persistent or repeated trauma, often of an invasive and interpersonal nature

Other specialized forms of trauma that can inform the type of trauma treatment chosen include: 

  • Childhood trauma: Survivors of childhood trauma often need a unique trauma treatment. Their thought, emotional, and behavioral patterns are often influenced by their trauma but remain unconscious.  
  • Emotional trauma: Emotional trauma can be more subtle than physical forms of trauma, influencing our thoughts, emotions, and social relationships. 
  • Intergenerational trauma: the effects of trauma are passed down from parent to child, often through multiple generations. People who experience intergenerational trauma will exhibit PTSD-like symptoms despite not having experienced the trauma first-hand. Racial trauma, parental childhood trauma, and trauma caused by war or displacement are common in intergenerational trauma. 
  • Vicarious trauma: Also known as secondhand trauma, this type is common in first responders, hospital workers, and anyone who works with traumatized individuals such as defense lawyers or counselors. 

Your trauma therapist will work with you to find the right type of trauma treatment for your needs and goals. Let’s look at the six most common and effective types of treatment for PTSD and trauma.

Types of Trauma Therapy

Many therapists like to use a combined approach, meaning they will draw on multiple counseling approaches. If a treatment isn’t working, or you don’t feel comfortable with it, let your therapist know. They are open to your feedback and will adjust their approach as possible. Therapy is a collaborative experience and works best when you are open and honest with your therapist.

Trauma treatments strongly recommended by APA

These trauma treatments are strongly reccomended by the APA, a leading research group into mental health practices. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT focuses on the patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and how changing one can lead to significant changes in others. For example, a change of behavior can alter how we think about ourselves, which generates more positive emotions. For trauma, CBT helps establish healthy, safe associations with things that previously reminded you of your trauma. For example, if PTSD makes it impossible for you to drive because of a bad car accident you got into a year ago, CBT can help you recreate a positive association with driving. Or, if you believe that everyone is inherently bad because of an assault you experienced, CBT can help you form new, positive relationships with those around you.

Prolonged Exposure (PE)

Prolonged Exposure helps you slowly address the thoughts, emotions, and memories about your trauma that you have been avoiding. A symptom of PTSD is even avoiding places and activities that remind you of the trauma. Those traumatic memories are locked in pain, and reliving them can bring up the anxiety, fear, and helplessness experienced with trauma. However, addressing and working through these memories is an important part of the recovery process. PE therapy helps you do so in a controlled, safe way.

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)

CPT focuses on the thoughts you have about yourself and the world around you as a result of your trauma. It aims to process and change the negative, upsetting thoughts and rewrite them with positive, true thoughts. For example, if you believe the world is inherently a dangerous place or that you are to blame for what happened to you, CPT can challenge those thoughts and gently replace them with positive associations.

Trauma Treatments Conditionally Recommended by the APA

The methods above are considered the gold standard for trauma therapy, and your therapist is likely to use a few techniques from them when working with you. However, depending on the type of trauma and presentation of symptoms, additional techniques can be helpful. These trauma treatments are conditionally recommended by APA, based on needs:

Narrative Exposure Therapy

Narrative exposure therapy is especially helpful for those who experienced chronic or complex trauma whose sense of self suffered greatly as a result of their trauma, or who experienced trauma as a result of a group status—like refugees and other oppressed people groups. The theory behind this treatment is that the story we tell ourselves about our own lives influences our perception of ourselves and the world around us. Framing our lives around our trauma can lead to persistent feelings of helplessness and anxiety. Narrative exposure therapy works to create a cohesive life narrative that encompasses all of who you are, understanding that trauma is an event that happened to you but not all you are.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

DBT is a form of therapy used to treat many different mental health disorders. DBT for trauma focuses on increasing distress tolerance, mindfulness, and implementing useful skills. It is especially helpful for those with harmful behavioral patterns or intense emotions.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

This type of therapy works to use the brain’s natural healing process to stimulate growth and healing. During EMDR, the client will focus briefly on the traumatic memory while experiencing bilateral stimulation, usually by moving their eyes slowly back and forth. Bilateral stimulation activates both the left and right sides of the brain, promoting natural healing.


Some people find positive benefits from other forms of therapy such as art therapy, music therapy, or mindfulness-based therapy. These treatments encourage the use of healthy coping mechanisms that can be used outside of the therapy session. If you think you could benefit from these types of therapy, talk to your trauma counselor about them.

Is Trauma Therapy Effective?

Yes! Trauma therapy has been proven to be very effective, especially when the therapist follows the recommended procedures. Most people will recover fully from PTSD.

Benefits of Trauma Counseling

The ultimate goal of trauma therapy is to reduce the negative symptoms and promote healing. During this process, you may also experience these benefits:

  • Reduction of fear and avoidance
  • Increased coping skills
  • Increased trust in yourself and others
  • Challenge problematic beliefs
  • Validation and support
  • Relinquish guilt and shame

Things to Consider

Before you start therapy for trauma, there are some things you should consider. 

  1. Have a safety plan. Processing your trauma is likely to be stressful, and sometimes triggering. By reliving the painful memories you risk those traumatic emotions and thoughts resurfacing. Have a safety plan with your therapist so you both know what to do if you were to get overly triggered. 
  2. Match with a therapist who fits your needs. Be mindful of the therapist you choose. It can help to choose a therapist who aligns with your sense of self. Some people find it easier to process trauma with someone who shares their identity, such as BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, gender, and religious orientation. 
  3. It might get worse before it gets better. In therapy, it’s common for your symptoms to get worse before they get better. Before counseling, the brain tries to deny and avoid these difficult emotions, memories, and thoughts. When they are brought up, it can cause a resurgence in symptoms. However, as you continue counseling those symptoms will decrease and eventually disappear.

Getting Started

If you are struggling with trauma, you don't need to face it alone. No matter how long ago your traumatic event occurred, or its nature, there's hope for healing and recovery. There are many different trauma treatments available. The most effective one for you will depend on your symptoms, your unique needs, and your circumstances. At Lifebulb, we're here to support you and provide you with the tools you need to live your brightest life. Our highly qualified therapists will address your concerns with the utmost care, ensuring that you feel heard, validated, and supported throughout your journey. Take the first step today towards a fulfilling life free from the weight of your trauma—book a session with us, or explore our online resources to begin your healing process. Remember, you deserve to thrive, and there's light at the end of the tunnel.

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