What is The Difference Between a Trauma Therapist and a Regular Therapist?
The distinctions between a trauma therapist and a standard therapist lie in our specialized training and focus on working with trauma survivors. While both therapists offer support and guidance, trauma therapists possess expertise in recognizing and addressing the profound impact of trauma on an individual's mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
"Trauma therapists possess a unique understanding of the profound impact of trauma on mental, emotional, and physical well-being. We are equipped with specialized training and modalities to effectively address trauma symptoms and provide tailored support. As trauma therapists, we offer a safe space for clients to heal and transform, empowering them to reclaim their lives from the grip of trauma."
As trauma therapists, we undergo extensive training in trauma-focused modalities, enabling us to gain a comprehensive understanding of the physiological, psychological, and neurological effects of trauma on the body and mind. We adeptly identify trauma symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, hyperarousal, dissociation, and avoidance, and provide effective support to help clients navigate through these challenging experiences.
In contrast, regular therapists typically have a broader range of experience and work with individuals facing diverse issues such as relationship difficulties, anxiety, depression, and life transitions. Although they may possess some knowledge and experience in addressing trauma, it is not their primary area of expertise.
As trauma therapists, we employ evidence-based approaches and tailored therapies to meet the unique needs of each client. These may include methodologies like Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Somatic Experiencing, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Through these specialized techniques, we create a safe and supportive environment for clients to explore and process their traumatic experiences, facilitating the journey of healing and transformation.
How Do I Know If I Need Trauma Therapy?
If you're wondering whether you might benefit from trauma therapy, here are some signs to consider:
Experiencing symptoms of trauma:
- You find yourself frequently experiencing intense nightmares, intrusive memories, or flashbacks related to past traumatic events, causing significant distress and disruption in your daily life.
- You notice that certain triggers or situations evoke strong emotional or physical reactions, such as panic attacks or a racing heart, even though you may not consciously recall the specific traumatic event associated with these responses.
History of traumatic experiences:
- You have experienced a traumatic event, such as childhood abuse, not being taken seriously by a caregiver when you needed support, bullying, an accident, or a traumatic loss, and find that the emotional impact of the event continues to affect your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Interference with daily life:
- Your past traumatic experiences significantly impact your ability to function in various areas of your life, such as work, relationships, and self-care.
- You constantly feel on edge, struggle with concentration and memory, and find it challenging to maintain stable employment due to the lasting effects of trauma.
- You are high functioning, have a good career that many admire and yet there’s an “emptiness about it”
Difficulty managing emotions:
- You experience intense and unpredictable emotions, such as sudden anger, irritability, or emotional numbness, which make it challenging to navigate daily life and maintain stable relationships.
- Despite appearing composed and successful on the outside, you often feel empty, disconnected, or emotionally numb inside, unable to experience a sense of joy or fulfillment despite your achievements.
- You notice recurring patterns in your relationships, such as difficulties with trust, forming deep connections, or maintaining healthy boundaries, which may stem from unresolved trauma.
- You repeatedly find yourself drawn to partners who are emotionally unavailable or abusive, unable to establish fulfilling and nurturing relationships due to past trauma.
- Despite engaging in self-help strategies or traditional therapy, you continue to experience persistent distress, anxiety, or depression related to your trauma, indicating the need for specialized trauma therapy.
- You have developed high-functioning coping mechanisms to navigate life's demands, but deep down, you feel a sense of emptiness, disconnection, or a pervasive feeling that something is missing or not right.
People Living With Trauma Still Resonate With The Trauma Responses
The 4 types of trauma responses:
- Fight Response: this can manifest as aggressive or violent behavior towards others. For example, overreacting to a minor disagreement with a friend by blaming , causing harm and escalating the situation unnecessarily.
- Flight Response: for instance, avoiding job interviews or important appointments due to anxiety or fear of failure, which can negatively impact one's career or personal growth.
- Freeze Response: In this type of response, an individual may become emotionally detached or emotionally numb as a way to cope with distressing situations. This can result in a lack of emotional connection with others and difficulty in expressing or experiencing emotions, leading to relationship challenges and a sense of isolation.
- Fawn Response: this response may involve excessive people-pleasing or sacrificing one's own needs and boundaries to gain acceptance or avoid conflict. For example, consistently putting others' needs before one's own, even at the expense of personal well-being, leading to a lack of self-care and a sense of self-neglect.
But How Do You Deal With Childhood Trauma in Adulthood?
First, it's important to address common misconceptions that may hinder the healing process. Some individuals may believe that "it's too late" to address childhood trauma or that "time heals it all." However, these thoughts can be unhelpful and inaccurate.
Childhood trauma can have lasting impacts that continue into adulthood. Even if we believe we are mentally "over it," our bodies may still carry the physiological imprints of the trauma. Research has shown that unresolved trauma can contribute to various physical and mental health issues, such as chronic pain, autoimmune disorders, anxiety, and depression. Suppressing or ignoring the effects of childhood trauma does not make them disappear. Instead, they may manifest in different ways, influencing our thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and relationships. Acknowledging and addressing the trauma allows us to work through its effects and promote healing.
When looking for resources to help deal with childhood trauma in adulthood, consider exploring the following options:
- The Blue Bench: A local organization focused on supporting survivors of sexual assault and providing trauma-informed care. They offer counseling services, support groups, and educational programs. Visit their website or contact them for more information.
- Colorado Crisis Services: Provides immediate crisis support, including mental health services, via phone, text, or chat. They can help connect you with local resources. Call their helpline or visit their website for assistance.
- University of Denver Graduate School of Professional Psychology: Their psychology clinic may offer affordable counseling services provided by graduate students under supervision. Contact them to inquire about trauma-focused therapy options.
- SafeHouse Denver: A local organization that provides shelter, counseling, and advocacy services for survivors of domestic violence. They offer trauma-informed care and can provide referrals for additional resources. Visit their website or reach out to them for support.
- Denver Women's Recovery: Offers trauma-informed addiction treatment and therapy for women. Contact them for more information on their services and programs.
- Michelle Kostic Therapy: My private practice located in Denver, Colorado, offering trauma-informed therapy services.
Is Regular Trauma The Same as PTSD?
Trauma and PTSD are related but not the same.
The symptoms of PTSD can be categorized into four main clusters:
- Intrusive thoughts or re-experiencing: for example, Denver has a bustling transportation system, including busy highways and city streets. Being involved in a serious car accident, witnessing a traumatic crash, or experiencing the aftermath of a collision can lead to the development of PTSD. The person may frequently have distressing memories or flashbacks of the crash, vividly recalling the sights, sounds, and emotions associated with the event. Even after some time has passed, the memory of the accident continues to intrude upon their thoughts and disrupt their daily life.
- Avoidance: the person may also develop an aversion to driving or being in a car, as it reminds them of the traumatic event. They actively avoid planning or participating in activities that require driving and may feel anxious or uneasy when confronted with situations that resemble the original trauma such as cars getting too close.
- Negative changes in thoughts and mood: if the individual, instead, has experienced emotional abuse in a past relationship, they may develop negative beliefs about themselves, such as feeling unworthy or unlovable. They may experience persistent feelings of guilt or shame, question their own judgment, and have a general sense of fear or mistrust in future relationships.
- Easily out of the window of tolerance: unfortunately, like any metropolitan area, Denver is not immune to incidents of violent crimes such as assaults, robberies, or shootings. Picture someone who witnessed a violent incident in their neighborhood. They may feel on edge and easily startled by sudden noises. They might struggle to concentrate on tasks, have difficulty falling asleep due to hypervigilance, and experience outbursts of irritability or anger that seem disproportionate to the situation.
How Many Therapy Sessions Do You Need For Trauma?
In some cases, a shorter-term, focused approach like Prolonged Exposure therapy may be beneficial for
individuals with recent traumatic experiences or strong support systems. Prolonged Exposure therapy aims to reduce the distress associated with traumatic memories by gradually and repeatedly exposing the individual to reminders of the trauma in a safe and controlled manner. On average, Prolonged Exposure therapy typically consists of 8 to 15 sessions, with each session lasting approximately 60 to 90 minutes. This therapy can help individuals process and integrate their traumatic experiences more effectively.
On the other hand, for more complex or long-standing traumas, longer-term therapy may be necessary. In these cases, approaches such as Sensorimotor Psychotherapy can be particularly helpful. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy focuses on the mind-body connection and helps individuals explore how trauma is held in the body, addressing both the physical and psychological aspects of trauma. This approach can assist in releasing somatic symptoms and resolving deep-rooted trauma. However, due to the complexity of long-standing trauma, therapy sessions may extend over several months or even years to adequately address and heal the effects of the trauma.
In my private practice, Kostic Therapy, located in Greenwood Village in Denver, there is also the possibility of creating a blended approach. This approach allows for flexibility and customization based on the needs of each individual client. By incorporating elements of both shorter-term and longer-term interventions from multiple therapeutic modalities, I can tailor the duration of treatment to suit the specific needs of my clients. Some individuals may benefit from a more focused, time-limited approach, while others may require a longer duration of therapy to address complex or deeply rooted traumas.
What is a Somatic Therapist?
Here's an example of how a somatic therapist may work differently compared to traditional talk therapy:
Let's say someone is struggling with chronic anxiety and frequently experiences tightness in their chest and shortness of breath. In traditional talk therapy, the therapist may primarily focus on exploring the person's thoughts, emotions, and past experiences related to their anxiety. They may engage in conversations to gain insight and develop coping strategies.
In contrast, a somatic therapist would incorporate a different approach. They would encourage the individual to bring their attention to their body and notice the sensations they experience in their chest when anxiety arises. The therapist may guide the person in exploring these bodily sensations through gentle breathing exercises or somatic awareness techniques.
The somatic therapist would create a safe space for the person to fully experience and express their bodily sensations without judgment. They would help the individual develop a greater awareness of how anxiety manifests in their body and explore any underlying emotions or memories that may be stored there.
Through the guidance of the somatic therapist, the person may gradually learn to release tension and regulate their breathing patterns, promoting a sense of calm and relaxation. By working directly with the body's physical sensations, the somatic therapist aims to help the individual process and integrate their emotions, leading to a reduction in anxiety symptoms over time.
Is a Sensorimotor Psychotherapist a Somatic Therapist?
Yes, a sensorimotor psychotherapist is a type of somatic therapist. Sensorimotor psychotherapy is an approach that combines elements of talk therapy with a focus on the body and somatic experiences. It recognizes that our thoughts, emotions, and traumas are not only processed in the mind but also stored in the body. We are lucky to have the headquarters here in Broomfield, Colorado!
Can I Deal with Trauma Without a Therapist?
It's important to recognize that trauma often has a way of catching up with us. When left unaddressed, the effects of trauma can manifest in various aspects of life, including relationships, emotional well-being, and overall quality of life. Dealing with trauma on your own may lead to an unawareness of the potential for a higher quality of life that comes with regulating the nervous system and learning to heal.
Until you are ready, here are a few resources you can use:
Educate yourself: Learn about trauma, its effects, and coping strategies. There are numerous books, online resources, and support groups that provide valuable information and tools for managing trauma.
Build a support network: Seek support from trusted friends, family members, or support groups. Sharing your experiences and emotions with others who have similar experiences can provide validation and a sense of belonging.
Practice self-care: Engage in activities that promote your overall well-being, such as exercise, meditation, journaling, or engaging in hobbies.
Establish routines: Creating structure and consistency in your daily life can provide a sense of stability and control.