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5 Effective Types of Therapy for Trauma

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as an emotional response to a life-altering event. Common sources of trauma, such as domestic violence, sexual assault, accidents, or the death of a loved one, can cause severe physical, emotional, psychological, and behavioral changes.

Trauma therapy addresses and resolves the different ways trauma affects lives. Trauma therapists can use various trauma-focused therapies to help people process life-altering events. Here are five effective types of therapy for trauma and the techniques used during therapy sessions.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most researched talk therapies for changing the thinking patterns contributing to psychological and behavioral problems. Therapists employ CBT techniques for drug addiction, major depressive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment.

How CBT Helps With Trauma

CBT is based on the premise that trauma causes distorted thinking or unhelpful beliefs. These beliefs alter behavior, causing individuals to hurt themselves and others. For example, a bullied teenager may start believing they’re worthless and pull back from loved ones, hurt themselves, and even consider ending their life.

During CBT sessions, individuals explore their distorted beliefs, and therapists help reframe these beliefs to combat triggers that may cause regression.

Techniques Used in CBT for Trauma

These are the trauma-processing techniques used in CBT:

  • Reframing. This process helps clients identify negative thought patterns and develop alternative positive thoughts.
  • Guided Discovery. Therapists challenge clients’ beliefs, helping them discover different, less damaging viewpoints.

Exposure. Therapists expose clients to mild and severe triggers, so they can practice coping mechanisms.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy developed in the late 1980s for treating PTSD symptoms. The goal of EMDR therapy is to help people recall and reframe traumatic or triggering memories to resolve their psychological and behavioral consequences.

A 2014 study on the role of EMDR therapy in medicine found that 100% of patients could resolve single-event trauma within six EMDR sessions.

How EMDR Helps With Trauma

EMDR is built on the principle that unprocessed trauma causes poor behavior patterns. Unprocessed trauma can cause chronic pain, insomnia, nightmares, and severe flashbacks. It can also make individuals live in constant fear and experience guilt and impotence, causing them to engage in destructive behavior.

EMDR uses rhythmic sensations, such as horizontal eye movements or repeated taps on the hands or knees, to regulate emotions as clients focus on unprocessed memories. Therapists help clients replace negative sensations associated with unprocessed memories with positive beliefs. EMDR therapy for addiction can help an individual fully recall a traumatic event without spiraling back into negative behavior.

Techniques Used in EMDR for Trauma

EMDR therapy involves learning and using the following techniques:

  • Desensitization and reprocessing. Desensitization occurs when therapists help clients focus on a distressing memory using rhythmic or bilateral stimulation methods. Reprocessing allows clients to identify positive feelings and thoughts toward the remembered experience.
  • Installation. This technique allows clients to reinforce positive feelings in their psyches.

Body scanning. The technique guides clients’ recollection of the traumatic memory and helps them identify the feelings and bodily sensations it arouses. Clients who still react negatively to the memory may undergo further reprocessing.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is one of the oldest forms of trauma-focused therapy. Its goal is to help clients resolve the unconscious thoughts and beliefs that guide their current behavior.

How Psychodynamic Therapy Helps With Trauma

Psychodynamic therapy has proven effective in helping people with depression, substance use disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders, and low-quality interpersonal relationships.

Therapy sessions involve emotional conversations with a therapist about past traumatic experiences. Clients examine the defense mechanisms they built to block the memories from their conscious minds. Therapists help clients see how the emotions and defenses associated with the trauma impact their current relationships.

Psychodynamic therapy can improve individuals’ self-awareness and help fix destructive behavioral patterns. It can also heal relationships affected by shared trauma.

Psychodynamic Therapy Techniques for Trauma

While psychodynamic therapy is mainly a talk therapy, these techniques increase its effectiveness:

  • Free association. Individuals discover their uncensored, unconscious feelings, thoughts, or repressed memories.

Dream analysis. Talking about dreams with a therapist can help a client identify the fears, needs, and desires hidden from their consciousness.


Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

While CBT seeks to change thought patterns contributing to unhealthy behaviors, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches healthy coping mechanisms that keep people self-aware and present even when triggered.

DBT was developed as a treatment for borderline personality disorder but is also helpful in treating drug and alcohol use disorders, eating disorders, self-harm, and suicidal ideation.

How DBT Helps With Trauma

Traumatic experiences can make people feel powerless, causing them to engage in destructive behaviors to feel in control.

During initial DBT sessions, a therapist can help the client identify the destructive behaviors they’re currently engaging in. The therapist also helps them recognize and label emotions that cause the behaviors and discusses better ways to manage them without resorting to harmful behavior. For example, a person may learn how to replace drinking with exercising.

Therapy sessions evolve to help people repair broken relationships and build confidence. Toward the end of treatment, clients learn ways to increase their personal and relational happiness, as they pursue a more fulfilling life.

DBT Techniques for Trauma Therapy
  • Mindfulness: By teaching how to remain present and recognize emotions, people can learn to regulate their emotions without harming themselves or others.
  • Distress tolerance: This technique helps clients learn to self-soothe and find distractions that reduce intense negative emotions.

Interpersonal effectiveness: DBT can teach people better communication skills, healthier ways to establish relationship boundaries, and how to deal with conflict.


Group Therapy

Therapists have used group therapy for over half a century to help trauma survivors find social support from people with similar experiences. Group therapy has proven effective in helping people with PTSD, substance use, anxiety, and behavioral disorders.

How Group Therapy Helps With Trauma

Group therapy provides a space for sharing experiences with others who have also experienced trauma and receiving validation. This form of therapy helps clients build connections with group members and find the social support necessary to successfully recover from trauma.

Group Therapy Techniques for Trauma Therapy
  • Gratitude: Part of sharing involves identifying aspects of a person’s current and past life for which they’re thankful. Hearing others point out positive aspects may help people view their lives differently.
  • Goal-setting: Group therapy helps clients create a life plan with steps to achieve it.

Accountability: Therapy groups are composed of people interested in each other’s progress, which motivates individuals to actively apply therapy techniques.

Learn More About Trauma-Focused Therapy at Beachway

Individuals with trauma can vastly improve their lives by undergoing trauma therapy. Licensed trauma therapists at Beachway Therapy Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, have helped dozens of clients successfully undergo different types of trauma therapy. The facility’s substance abuse and mental health treatment programs have helped people make lasting positive changes.

Contact Beachway Therapy Center at (877) 672-3967 to learn about the trauma therapies offered.