Mental Health

What Is Trauma-Informed Therapy?

female patient in therapy

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Sometimes, despite a therapist’s best efforts, therapy can end up triggering the same emotions and memories that a client is attending therapy to avoid. This is why a trauma-informed approach to therapy is critical for people who have been through traumatic events. In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into trauma-informed therapy and its benefits and how you can find a trauma-informed therapist today. 

At Zinnia Healing, we are proud to partner with some of the industry’s best trauma-informed therapists to offer our clients access to a broad range of psychiatry services. Call our intake specialists today at (855) 430-9439 to learn more.

What Is Trauma-Informed Therapy?

During trauma-informed therapy, healthcare providers take special care to account for a client’s history of trauma and take steps to avoid the re-traumatization of the client during therapy. Trauma-informed treatments require a thorough understanding from the therapist that the trauma people experience in the past can negatively impact their present, leading to a wide range of health issues and impacting their overall well-being.

The framework of trauma-informed care includes the following:

  • Understanding the widespread impact of trauma and how it affects people, their health, and behavior.
  • Training leadership, providers, and staff on the best practices in responding to trauma-informed care.
  • Integrating knowledge about trauma and adversity into policies, procedures, and treatment planning.
  • Avoiding re-traumatization through nonjudgmental support.

There are six key principles of trauma-informed therapy that help ensure the therapist is offering treatment in a way that’s respectful of a client’s history of trauma. These principles, established by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, are:

Safety

Feeling unsafe can cause extreme anxiety in trauma survivors, which can lead to re-traumatization.

Providers should make sure the physical environment of their trauma-informed practices is safe. They should also ensure the environment is conducive to creating counseling interactions and experiences that allow clients to feel safe. 

Some things providers can do to create a safe environment are:

  • Ensure all parking lots, entrances, exits, and hallways are well lit
  • Have a receptionist, security guard, or security camera that monitors the building’s entrances and exits
  • Use welcoming and positive language on signage

Trustworthiness and Transparency

To foster trustworthiness and transparency and ensure clients feel safe, practitioners must be open and honest about the treatment process. This includes what treatments will entail, how care will be provided, etc.

It’s also important to offer sufficient notice when changes are necessary and maintain consistent, open, and compassionate communication. 

Peer Support

Knowing that they are not alone is a critical piece of treatment for people seeking trauma-informed care. This peer support helps them establish safety and hope and build trust in the therapy process while using stories and shared experiences to connect and promote recovery.

Collaboration and Mutuality

It’s essential to create a collaborative dynamic between therapist and client and for the client to view the therapist as their partner in recovery, not somebody who holds authority over them or dictates how their recovery journey should go.

Empowerment, Voice, and Choice

Empowerment is another key ingredient in the recipe for recovery. This is why therapists should encourage and empower their clients and their voices and experiences. But the empowerment should stretch beyond the client-therapist relationship and include all staff members at the facility with the belief in the ability of individuals, organizations, and communities to heal and promote recovery.

Clients should be given the power to make their own decisions, choices, and goals.

Cultural, Historical, and Gender Awareness

Therapists and staff should be aware of any bias they have against certain cultures and set their biases aside.

What Does Trauma-Informed Therapy Treat?

Trauma-informed therapy can be helpful in treating a number of conditions that are a result of trauma, such as:

  • Eating disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Sexual abuse
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Emotional trauma
  • Attachment issues
  • Racial trauma

How Does Trauma-Informed Therapy Work?

Trauma-informed therapy places the focus on the client’s trauma as the therapist draws connections between any addictions and mental health issues they have and their history of trauma.

Trauma-informed treatment exhibits the following characteristics:

  • An understanding of how widespread the impact of trauma is
  • Recognition of the symptoms of trauma in the client and their loved ones
  • Providing an appropriate treatment plan to address trauma
  • Eliminating future symptoms of trauma

Benefits of Trauma-Informed Therapy

There are a number of benefits associated with trauma-informed therapy. This type of therapy can help a patient to:

Learn About Trauma

Trauma-informed therapy provides a safe space for people who have gone through traumatic experiences to learn about the impact of their trauma and how it has impacted their lives. This helps them understand why they have certain thoughts and feelings and behave in specific ways and how it relates to their adverse childhood experiences and/or trauma.

Re-Establish Safety

When someone goes through a traumatic life experience, their sense of safety is violated, whether physically, emotionally, and/or psychologically. Trauma-informed therapy works to help clients re-develop their sense of safety through activities and discussions targeting these areas.

Identify Triggers

Trauma-informed therapy helps clients identify, understand, and explore all memories and emotions related to their trauma and identify triggers to help them understand their reactions to things that otherwise seem to “appear out of thin air.” Learning these triggers helps trauma survivors avoid them in the future and learn healthy ways to manage and respond to them.

Decrease Symptoms of Trauma

Trauma can lead to a number of mental health symptoms, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Disassociation
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares

Trauma-informed therapy can help people experience these symptoms less frequently and intensely.

Develop Healthy Coping Skills

Learning healthy coping strategies helps trauma survivors respond in a healthy way to triggers and reminders associated with their traumatic event.

Access to Peer Support

Trauma can feel extremely isolating and lonely. Trauma-informed care brings people with shared experiences together, helping them feel part of something bigger than themselves. This helps them feel united and not like they are “broken” or outcasts.

If you’re ready to start experiencing these benefits, reach out to Zinnia Healing today.

What Is Trauma?

To understand trauma-informed care, you must first gain a better understanding of trauma. There is no one-size-fits-all definition for trauma, and different types of trauma impact people in different ways. But in general, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines trauma as events or circumstances that result in:

  • Physical injury
  • Emotional harm
  • Life-threatening harm

The event/circumstances have a lasting impact on all aspects of the victim’s health, including their:

  • Mental health
  • Physical health
  • Emotional health
  • Social well-being
  • Spiritual well-being

Trauma can result from an isolated stressful event or a series of events. Trauma survivors often lose their sense of physical and emotional safety and security, feel helpless, and experience mental health and relational issues.

There are many different events that can trigger trauma, including:

  • Being the direct victim of physical danger or harm
  • Being close to physical danger or harm
  • Witnessing physical danger or harm
  • Being threatened with physical and/or emotional danger or harm
  • Living in poverty
  • Living in a violent community
  • Living in a war-torn community
  • The threat of terrorism
  • Living with someone with an unmanaged substance use or mental health disorder

Adverse Childhood Experiences and Trauma

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is one agency that continues to study the effects of trauma on children, which are known as adverse childhood experiences (ACE).

Researchers from the CDC have found that ACEs can lead to children and teenagers misbehaving, and the impact can stretch well into adulthood. They found that adults with high ACE scores were at an increased risk for:

  • Physical health problems
  • Mental illness
  • Early death

There are 10 adverse childhood experiences, as defined by CDC researchers:

  1. Physical abuse
  2. Sexual abuse
  3. Emotional abuse
  4. Physical neglect
  5. Emotional neglect
  6. A family member or caretaker having a mental illness
  7. A family member or caretaker having an addiction
  8. Witnessing violence against the mother
  9. Having a relative in jail or prison
  10. The loss of a parent due to separation, divorce, or death

The Effects of Trauma

During and after trauma, survivors often become overwhelmed with fear. That fear manifests in several ways, such as:

Re-experiencing Symptoms

It’s quite common for trauma survivors to re-experience their trauma and all of the mental, emotional, and physical symptoms that come with it, including:

  • Upsetting memories
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Feeling in danger
  • Anger
  • Feeling the need to defend oneself
  • Constantly being on the lookout for danger
  • Difficulty thinking and concentrating
  • Difficulty falling and/or staying asleep
  • Feeling agitated
  • Getting very startled by loud noises or being surprised
  • Feeling shaky
  • Racing heart
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feeling overly concerned with staying safe in situations that are not dangerous

Avoidance Symptoms

Some survivors may try to avoid reminders of the trauma due to the emotional toll they take. This is known as avoidance, and common signs of avoiding trauma include:

  • Actively avoiding trauma-related thoughts, memories, conversations, activities, places, and people
  • Difficulty remembering important parts of the traumatic event(s)
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Difficulty having loving feelings
  • Feeling disconnected
  • Feeling strange physical sensations
  • Losing interest in things that were once fun, or passions

Physical Health Issues

Physical health symptoms can result from long periods of physical agitation from anxiety.

Some trauma survivors may also avoid medical care because it could trigger their trauma, remind them of their trauma, and cause anxiety.

When trauma survivors turn to drugs and alcohol to numb their pain, these physical health symptoms worsen — as do mental health symptoms.

Aggressive Behavior

Some trauma survivors may display aggressive behavior toward themselves and others due to their frustration with the inability to control their PTSD symptoms. Others may become aggressive when they think about their trauma and the unfairness of why it happened to them. Others may display aggressive behavior simply because they grew up around parents or caretakers who were often lashing out.

Aggression and anger can lead to problems in all areas of life, including at home, at work, and in personal relationships.

Trauma survivors may also have problems with personal relationships because they have a hard time feeling safe enough to let their guard down and trust other people.

Managing the Effects of Trauma

Seeking help from a trauma-informed therapist is a crucial step in the journey to healing from trauma. Other strategies for coping with trauma and managing its effects include:

  • Following a treatment plan: Patients should diligently follow the treatment plan their trauma-informed therapist comes up with for them. Some elements of the plan may include medication, different forms of therapy, and connecting with peers in similar situations. No matter which elements are included in the plan, precisely following it is key to healing and recovery.
  • Practicing self-care: Self-care is an important — and often overlooked — element of healing. Some simple ways to prioritize self-care include maintaining good sleep hygiene, getting plenty of exercise, spending time outdoors, and eating a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Stay connected: Spending time with caring and supportive people is vital for healing and comfort. This can be done face-to-face or virtually through video chats and phone calls.
  • Interrupting negative thoughts and feelings: Learning and implementing healthy coping skills to replace negative thoughts and habits is an important step in the healing journey. This can be done by calling a friend or family member, listening to music, going for a walk, watching a movie, or engaging in a new hobby.
  • Avoiding drugs and alcohol: Trying to numb feelings or find an escape with drugs and alcohol may work temporarily but will only exacerbate negative feelings in the long run.

How to Find a Therapist Trained in Trauma-Informed Therapy

If you believe that Trauma-Informed Therapy could be helpful for you, it is essential to find a therapist who is trained in this approach.

Our trauma-informed therapists at Zinnia Healing are trained in the best therapeutic approaches for people with a trauma history. We offer inpatient and outpatient programs at facilities across the nation.

Call Zinnia Healing at (855) 430-9439 to find out whether Trauma-Informed Therapy, or any of our additional evidence-based therapies are suitable for you. We have operators standing by 24 hours a day to take your call.

More Psychotherapy Options

These are other types of psychotherapies available: