How our minds perceive the world, process, and interpret experience varies for each of us. So it makes sense that there is no one “magic bullet” trauma treatment that works for everyone. When surveying the options for trauma-focused treatments you’ll likely come across as many as twenty or thirty different styles of therapy. Sifting through all that information can feel really dizzying. How on earth are you to know what type of therapy is “right” for you? To help simplify and streamline the process I’m going to discuss three different trauma therapies. If you’re considering trauma therapy try to really hone in on your reactions to each description, noticing if one seems to make sense to you in way the others may not. Each approach I describe integrates the three main components to be considered when healing trauma: the cognitive, emotional, and experiential aspects of recovery. Each therapy differs primarily in the emphasis placed on these different areas.
CPT, or Cognitive Processing Therapy, emphasizes cognitively working through trauma. But don’t let the name to fool you: cognitions are used as the doorway to access emotions and create new experiences. CPT is designed to be a twelve-week treatment with weekly sessions from sixty to ninety minutes. The first sessions focus on the therapist providing cognitive therapy, psycho-education and targeting any faulty beliefs that have resulted from the traumatic experience. Beliefs around trust, safety, power, control, intimacy, and self-esteem are explored. CPT uses a combination of journaling and talk therapy to help patients intellectually integrate what happened to them while emotionally releasing and moving beyond the stuck patterns their trauma has them trapped in.
Another trauma therapy to consider is Somatic Experiencing. SE therapy is based upon the assumption that during trauma the nervous system becomes dysregulated and fails to fully resolve the experience, thus resulting in mental, emotional, and physical disturbances. As the name implies this therapy focuses largely on the physical experience of trauma and uses bodily responses as the primary guide to release emotions and heal. An SE therapist will encourage a client to very slowly share the story of their trauma while noting and exploring minute shifts in emotional and physical sensations. Often, to prepare clients for the powerful emotions the work may evoke, SE therapists will teach clients a simple guided meditation to encourage feelings of safety and emotional calm before engaging in the heavy work of releasing trauma. There is no single way to do SE, and practitioners will use modalities such as dance, healing touch, breathwork, and expressive movement to help clients find this physical and emotional release.
The third therapy of interest is EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR weaves together the cognitive, emotional, and experiential aspects of therapy. Much like SE, EMDR posits that trauma disrupts the nervous system and leads to varied emotional and physical complications as a result. With the use of binaural stimulation EMDR aims to help a person resolve dysregulation by targeting and altering distorted core beliefs that are a result of trauma. Using either a light bar (see ) or vibrating hand tappers, the therapist helps the person connect those beliefs to memories or feelings, then verbally processes what they discovered within. The final portion of this therapy involves instilling new positive beliefs while continuing to use binaural stimulation. Though this may sound like an odd process, as with the previous therapies mentioned there have been multiple studies that demonstrate the efficacy of EMDR for those struggling with PTSD (Shapiro, F., 2014; Moreno-Alcázar, et. al., 2017).
The road to healing is a unique one. When choosing a trauma therapy it’s helpful to think about the structure of your personality and the ways you experience your body, your emotions, and your mind. Often the therapy that will heal you is the one you feel makes the most sense for who you are, and if none seem to fit then I suggest doing further research. Trauma is a tricky beast to escape, but maintaining hope that it can be overcome is the first step to recovering.
Elizabeth Carter, MS, NCC, LPCA
Moreno-Alcázar, A., Treen, D., Valiente-Gómez, A., Sio-Eroles, A., Pérez, V., Amann, B. L., & Radua, J. (2017). Efficacy of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing in Children and Adolescent with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1750. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01750
Brom, D., Stokar, Y., Lawi, C., Nuriel‐Porat, V., Ziv, Y., Lerner, K., & Ross, G. (2017). Somatic Experiencing for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Outcome Study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 30(3), 304–312. http://doi.org/10.1002/jts.22189
Dossa, N. I., & Hatem, M. (2012). Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy versus Other PTSD Psychotherapies as Treatment for Women Victims of War-Related Violence: A Systematic Review. The Scientific World Journal, 2012, 1-19. doi:10.1100/2012/181847
Khan, K. (2016, June 10). How Somatic Therapy Can Help Patients Suffering from Psychological Trauma. Retrieved from
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Osadchey, S. (n.d.). GoodTherapy.org. Retrieved March 18, 2018, from https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/somatic-experiencing
Shapiro, F. (2014). The Role of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy in Medicine: Addressing the Psychological and Physical Symptoms Stemming from Adverse Life Experiences. The Permanente Journal, 18(1), 71–77.
What is EMDR? (n.d.). Retrieved August 20, 2018, from http://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/