Why is it Important to Find a Therapist Who Specializes in Treating Trauma?
Treating Trauma is different than treating other diagnosis. People who have experinced trauma can react differently in theraputic situtaions and react differently to theraputic interventions.
Why Trauma Treatment is Tricky
Unlike the medical model, the trauma model is an empowerment model that recognizes the therapeutic relationship is requisite to healing. Although the clinician should possess and provide many things-professional training, skill, useful information, empathy, insight, intuition, etc.-it is the client who is the expert on the client and the primary agent of change.
Whether choosing a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or counselor, steer clear of authoritative clinicians.
The therapeutic relationship is paramount to successful treatment. If it isn’t collaborative it’s doomed to failure.
- Make sure the provider has experience treating people who have experienced a trauma.
- Try to find a provider who specializes in evidence-based treatments or effective psychotherapy for Trauma or PTSD (e.g., Mindfulnessbaded cognitive behavioral therapy (MCBT); eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), prolonged exposure therapy (PE) etc). There is a list of recommended treatments at the bottom of this page.
- Find out what type(s) of insurance the provider accepts and what you will have to pay (out-of-pocket costs) for care.
- Contact your family doctor to ask for a recommendation. You can also ask friends and family if they can recommend someone.
- If you have health insurance, call to find out which mental health providers your insurance company will pay for. Your insurance company may require that you choose a provider from among a list they maintain.
Make sure the therapist or counselor understands effective trauma treatment
Trauma-Informed Care is not just about the specific therapeutic techniques—it is an overall approach, a philosophy of providing care.
- A safe therapeutic environment is essential to aid in recovery.
- Trauma-related symptoms and behaviors originate from adapting to traumatic experiences.
- Recovery from trauma is identified as a goal in treatment.
- Resiliency and trauma-resistant skills training are part of treatment.
- Trauma-Informed Care includes a focus on strengths rather than pathology.
- Trauma recovery is a collaborative effort.
Finding a provider using the internet
These resources can help you locate a therapist, counselor, or mental health provider who is right for you. Note: These resources can be used by anyone.
- Internet search looking for a therapist or counselor who treats Trauma or PTSD
- Psychology Today Website
- Integrative Trauma Treatment
- Sidran Institute Help Desk will help you find therapists who specialize in trauma treatment. Email or call the Help Desk at (410) 825-8888.
- EMDR International Association has a locator listing professionals who provide EMDR or to search more locally, Google EMDR
- Search For EMDR in your web browser for local listings
- ISTSS Clinician Directory is a service provided by the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) that lets you consider many factors in searching for a clinician, counselor, or mental health professional.
Here is an example as written by Barbara Markway, Ph.D of a client seeking therapy for trauma.
Caitlyn had been to several mental health professionals for ongoing depression, but hadn’t gotten better. She felt that none of the therapists understood her. In addition to her mood symptoms, Caitlyn experienced periods of time where she felt very out of control, sometimes cutting her arms with a razor blade. She did not want to die, but some of her past therapists had hospitalized her every time she talked about her cutting.
Caitlyn was about ready to give up all hope of counseling helping her when she had a different experience with a new therapist. Caitlyn hesitated in mentioning her “self-mutilation,” as her other therapists called it, but when she finally did, this therapist responded differently than the others. The previous therapists had asked questions suggesting there was something wrong with her, but this one gently said, “I wonder if something traumatic has happened to you. Would you like to talk about it?”
In that transformative moment, Caitlyn felt safe enough to begin discussing her traumatic childhood experiences. Through her tone and her words, the therapist communicated that there was nothing wrong with her, and that her cutting behavior was a way she had learned to cope with a horrific experience.
What made the difference? Her therapist had been trained in Trauma-Informed Care (TIC).
- A safe therapeutic environment is essential to aid in recovery. Caitlyn had not felt safe with past therapists. She felt that she was considered a “problem client” who sometimes needed more that the therapist was willing and/or able to give. Therapists guided her away from certain topics because they feared “opening up” her pain. On the other hand, her new therapist recognized that learning to cope with her pain was an essential part of her recovery.
- Trauma-related symptoms and behaviors originate from adapting to traumatic experiences. Caitlyn sometimes withdrew and “shut down” when she felt overwhelming pain. The therapist accepted that this was a coping skill. Also, the therapist recognized that cutting served to soothe Caitlyn’s emotions. While these behaviors were not ideal coping strategies, they did serve a purpose. Trauma-informed care gives individuals an opportunity to see how resourceful they were in managing a very difficult experience.
- Recovery from trauma is identified as a goal in treatment. Recall that Caitlyn initially came to therapy because of depression. She hadn’t connected the dots between her past trauma history and her current difficulties. The therapist expresses hope that Caitlyn can recover, and that dealing with past trauma is part of the recovery process.
- Resiliency and trauma-resistant skills training are part of treatment. There are many alternative coping strategies that can be learned to cope with past trauma. The therapist works with Caitlyn to develop a repertoire of such skills.
- Trauma-Informed Care includes a focus on strengths rather than pathology.Caitlyn’s therapist noted that she had survived the trauma and asked questions such as: “What would you say are your strengths? What characteristics have helped you manage your experiences? How have you coped with your feelings? What are some of your accomplishments that make you feel proud?” With a therapist using such positive language, Caitlyn was able to recognize that she had coped quite well with very difficult experiences.
- Trauma recovery is a collaborative effort. The therapist asked Caitlyn about her personal goals for treatment, about what recovery would look like for her.
All of these factors enabled Caitlyn to see herself as a person deserving of respect, as a strong individual capable of recovery. As Published in Psychology Today by Barbara Markway, Ph.D. Dec 29, 2015
Angela Zaffer, MA, NCC, LPCC
Some of the recommended treatment modalities from the Intergrative Trauma Treatment website
Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy
Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy