Types of Trauma Therapy: A Comprehensive, No-Nonsense Guide   

Types of Trauma Therapy: A Comprehensive, No-Nonsense Guide  

Dealing with trauma and PTSD is hard enough; you shouldn’t have to spend hours researching which type of trauma therapy is right for you.

But with so many different types of trauma therapy to choose from, where do you even begin?

In this article, I’m going to cut through all the psychobabble and alphabet soup of trauma approaches—DBT, IFS, EMDR, TF-CBT—and give you the information you need to quickly determine which therapeutic approach is likely to be the best fit for you. 

We’ll explore 12 commonly used types of therapy for trauma. We’ll explain what each approach entails, what happens in a typical therapy session, and who may benefit from it. We’ll also highlight some potential downsides or reasons why you or someone else might want to avoid specific types of trauma therapy.

So, let’s dive in.

 1. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR has quickly become the go-to approach for many trauma therapists. This form of therapy focuses on helping you process traumatic experiences by focusing on the emotions and physical sensations associated with those experiences. In EMDR, a therapist guides you through a series of eye movements, taps, or sounds while you recall traumatic events from your past. The goal is to help you reprocess your traumatic memories in a more adaptive way, reducing their emotional intensity and negative impact.

During an EMDR session, you’ll start by discussing your trauma history and identifying specific memories to target. Then, the therapist will guide you through the eye movements or other bilateral stimulation techniques while you focus on the memory. You’ll also discuss any emotions, physical sensations, or thoughts that come up during the process.

While the science behind this approach is still not fully understood, EMDR has been shown to be effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related conditions. It may not be suitable for individuals with a history of seizures or those who have difficulty regulating their emotions. Furthermore, EMDR is a highly directive and scripted form of therapy, so if you’re looking for a more relational or conversational form of therapy, EMDR may not be the best fit.  

2. Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)

Trauma-focused CBT is a type of talk therapy aimed at helping you change negative thoughts and behaviors related to your traumatic experiences. As the name suggests, trauma-focused CBT focuses specifically on addressing trauma-related symptoms and behaviors.

During a trauma-focused CBT session, you’ll work with a therapist to identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs related to your trauma. You’ll also learn coping skills to manage symptoms like anxiety and depression. Additionally, your therapist may ask you to complete homework assignments outside of therapy to reinforce what you’ve learned.

While trauma-focused CBT can be an effective treatment method for people of all ages, studies have shown it to be highly effective for children and adolescents.

In cases of complex trauma, using CBT as a stand-alone therapy may prove ineffective, as addressing thoughts and behaviors is unlikely to resolve the physical dimensions of trauma and PTSD.

3. Somatic Experiencing

Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a form of trauma therapy that focuses on how trauma and PTSD impact your physical body. The goal of SE is to help you release the tension and energy trapped in your body as a result of trauma.

During an SE session, the therapist will guide you through physical exercises and sensations, helping you tune into your body’s responses to trauma. Your therapist may ask you, for example, to “feel into” certain physical sensations and to describe them in terms of temperature, movement, shape, size, color, texture, intensity, etc.

Somatic Experiencing may be an approach worth considering if you struggle to talk about your emotions or you’ve tried traditional talk therapy in the past and found it to be ineffective. Similarly, if you’re nervous about having to discuss your traumatic experiences in detail with your therapist, this approach may be a good option, as it doesn’t require you to disclose the specific details of your trauma, unlike EMDR, for example.  

4. Internal Family Systems Therapy

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a type of talk therapy that has gained popularity among therapists and clients alike over the past decade. IFS therapists work from the assumption that we each have multiple “parts,” or subpersonalities, that make up who we are as individuals. The goal of IFS is to help you identify and understand your unique parts and the role they play in your everyday thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. 

During an IFS session, your therapist will help you explore your internal system, working to build and strengthen relationships between your different parts and resolve conflicts that exist between them.

IFS can be an effective approach for individuals who struggle with self-esteem, self-criticism, or feelings of internal conflict, and it can be especially effective for adults who have experienced childhood trauma.

A downside to IFS is that you must ascribe to the IFS paradigm, particularly its view of the self, for this approach to be effective. If you’re someone who prefers a less rigid or instructive approach, IFS may not be the best fit.

5. Prolonged Exposure (PE)

Prolonged Exposure therapy, as its name implies, involves gradually exposing you to the source of your trauma in a safe and controlled environment. The goal of PE is to help you develop coping skills and reduce anxiety associated with traumatic memories.

In a prolonged exposure therapy session, your therapist will likely ask you to revisit a traumatic event or engage in activities that simulate the experience. This approach can be particularly helpful for individuals who struggle with avoidance or have specific phobias related to past traumas.

Not everyone is a suitable candidate for prolonged exposure, however. You’ll likely want to avoid this type of trauma treatment if you have difficulty tolerating increased levels of distress.

6. Brainspotting

Brainspotting is a relatively new trauma therapy technique that focuses on identifying and processing the source of trauma in the brain. This approach posits that directing your eyes to different points in your visual field allows you to gain access to unprocessed trauma in your subcortical brain.

In a Brainspotting session, a trained therapist will ask you to focus on different points in your visual field while checking with you to see which eye spots increase your level of emotional distress. Once an emotional “hot spot” is identified, your therapist will work with you to work through and resolve implicit trauma-based memories.        

Brainspotting may be worth trying if you’ve struggled to make progress in more traditional talk-based forms of therapy. One potential downside of Brainspotting is that this technique requires you to be able to tolerate intense emotions and sensations that may arise in the therapy session. If you’re not comfortable with intense emotional experiences, Brainspotting may not be the best treatment option for you.

7. Hypnotherapy for Trauma

Hypnotherapy for trauma is a therapeutic approach that uses hypnosis to help you access your subconscious mind and process traumatic experiences. The goal of hypnotherapy for trauma is to help you gain access to your trauma, regain control of the experiences, reassess your sense of self, and ultimately escape chronic hyperarousal. 

During a hypnotherapy session, the therapist will guide you into a relaxed state of consciousness and use suggestion and visualization techniques to help you access and process the traumatic memories.

Hypnotherapy for trauma is not suitable for everyone. If you’re resistant to hypnosis or struggle to enter a relaxed state of consciousness, this approach will likely prove ineffective for you.

8. Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback is a therapeutic approach that utilizes real-time monitoring of your brain activity to assist you in managing your emotional and physiological reactions to traumatic events without any invasive procedures.

During a neurofeedback session, a trained therapist places electrodes on your head to measure your brain activity while you perform a task on a screen, such as watching a movie or playing a video game. As you attempt to regulate different regions of your brain, visual or auditory cues signal when you are successfully producing the desired brain activity, leading to improved cognitive and emotional functioning and a reduction in symptoms associated with trauma and PTSD.

If you’ve been in talk therapy and not found it to be effective, neurofeedback may be a treatment option worth trying. This approach may also work well for you if you tend to struggle with verbalizing your thoughts and feelings. One potential downside of this technique is its cost. Neurofeedback sessions tend to be expensive, and insurance may not cover this form of treatment.

9. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Though initially developed to treat individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), DBT is another common therapy approach for treating trauma and PTSD. DBT combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness-based practices to help you regulate trauma-based emotions and behaviors.

During a DBT session, your therapist will likely work with you on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns, developing coping skills, and practicing mindfulness techniques.

DBT can be particularly helpful if you’re someone who struggles with emotional dysregulation or has a difficult time managing your emotions. It can also be effective if you’ve experienced prolonged or repeated exposure to traumatic events, also known as complex trauma.

10. Psychodrama

Psychodrama is a type of group therapy that uses role-playing techniques and dramatic action to help you explore and work through issues related to past traumas.

During a psychodrama session, a therapist may have you and your fellow group members act out a scene related to a traumatic event or experience. The psychodrama therapist will have you take on various roles and may also introduce props or other tools to help create a sense of immersion and engagement in the scene.

Psychodrama can be particularly effective if you have difficulty verbalizing your emotions or experiences. It can also be helpful if you are someone who benefits from a more interactive and hands-on approach to therapy.

11. Art and Music Therapy for Trauma

Art and music therapy incorporate creative expression to help individuals process and heal from trauma. Both forms of therapy can be powerful tools for helping you process traumatic experiences in a safe and supportive environment.

During an art therapy session, an art therapist will prompt you to create art that reflects emotions or experiences related to a traumatic event from your past. Similarly, during a music therapy session, you’ll likely listen to or create music that evokes certain emotions or memories related to the trauma.

Art and music therapy can be particularly helpful for individuals who struggle to express themselves verbally or who find traditional talk therapy too challenging. It can also be beneficial for individuals who find creative expression to be a soothing and calming outlet for their emotions.

12. Psychodynamic Trauma Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy focuses on helping you explore unconscious thoughts and feelings to help you gain insight into your behavior and emotions.

In a psychodynamic trauma therapy session, your therapist will work with you to uncover underlying issues that may be contributing to your trauma symptoms and help you develop coping strategies to manage these issues.

Psychodynamic trauma therapy can be particularly helpful if you’ve experienced childhood trauma, as this approach can help you gain a deeper understanding of how your experiences influence your current thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Next Steps

Trauma takes many forms, and its effects vary from person to person, but there are many types of trauma therapy that can help you find relief. Achieving success in therapy depends on many different factors, but one of the most important things to consider before getting into therapy is which therapeutic approach is best suited for you.  

Each approach to trauma therapy has unique benefits, as well as drawbacks. If in doubt about what approach is best for you, a good starting point may be to schedule a phone consult with a local trauma therapist. Many, if not most, therapists offer free phone consultations, and you can use this initial conversation to discuss the different types of trauma therapy the therapist offers, as well as which approach he or she recommends for you specifically. While doing your own research is important, don’t be afraid to lean on the expertise of a trauma specialist.  

Keep in mind, too, that most trauma therapists incorporate multiple types of trauma therapy in their work with clients. Ultimately, the most effective treatment for you may be a mix of different approaches. Therapists that describe themselves or their approach as “integrative” will likely be familiar with developing an approach customized to your unique situation and needs.   

Looking for a trauma therapist in Charlotte, North Carolina? At Modern Era Counseling, our therapists integrate many different types of trauma therapy to help people heal from trauma and PTSD every day. Call us today at 704-800-4436 or shoot us an email to learn more.

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