Trauma therapy is an important aspect in healing process after experiencing a shocking or disturbing event. A trauma treatment program provides specialized therapies that help reduce the impact of the traumatic memory, allowing the individual to become less sensitive to the memories of it, as well as the people, places, or situations that may trigger the distressing memories. Trauma therapy, and adjunctive therapies that complement the counseling, allow the individual to gradually move forward in their lives.
The deep wounds of experiencing a trauma can deeply impact a person’s life. In most cases, a traumatic experience, whether it occurred in childhood or recently, will be processed and resolved in a timely manner during a relatively short period of time after it occurred. However, sometimes the effects of the trauma are so powerful or life-altering that it may cause disruption in normal functioning. When this is the case, a residential trauma treatment program like Capo By the Sea can be highly beneficial.
A traumatic event can leave an emotional scare, leaving the individual to experience an intense psychological response when they feel they are in a dangerous or life-threatening situation. Each person’s response to a trauma may be unique, and is influenced by such things as personality traits or temperament, genetics, history of prior traumas, or and existing mental health condition.
The physical, psychological, and behavioral responses to trauma might include insomnia or sleep disturbances, rumination, irritability, chronic anxiety, avoidance behaviors and detachment, recurring nightmares or flashbacks, and feeling emotionally numb. When fear becomes irrational, it can result in the person’s inability to cope or impaired functioning in daily life.
Examples of trauma include:
- Rape, sexual assault
- Sudden unexpected death of loved one
- Physical assault
- Serious injury or medical condition
- Sexual abuse
- Witnessing a violent event
- Natural disasters
- Combat trauma
- Serious accident
- Childhood sexual abuse, neglect physical assault
- Witness to suicide or homicide
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a mental health disorder that may result after experiencing or witnessing a deeply traumatizing event. After being exposed to the trauma, some individuals continue to experience troubling after effects for a period lasting more than a month afterward. In some instances, the symptoms of PTSD may be experienced as a delayed response, sometimes even months after the actual event.
Veterans have higher rates of PTSD than the general population, who may have experienced horrific events in combat and returned emotionally scarred. PTSD rates among veterans range between 10%-30%. While veterans have higher rates of PTSD, with rates ranging between 10-30% PTSD is an anxiety disorder than also impacts about 8% of the population at large, according to statistics provided by the National Institute of Health.
Different Trauma Disorders
While generally trauma may feature disordered thought and behavior patterns, not all trauma disorders are the same. There are three basic types of identified trauma disorder. These include:
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is diagnosed when the effects of the trauma persist for more than a month. Symptoms tend to fall into four categories and may include:
- Intrusive memories. Unwanted memories of the traumatic event are repeatedly experienced through flashbacks, nightmares, or vivid and disturbing replays.
- Avoidance. Avoidance behaviors are common, and many times the individual will not be open to discussing the event. Someone with PTSD may carefully avoid any people, situations, or places that might trigger the disturbing memories.
- Hyper-arousal. Hyper-arousal is characterized by being jumpy, easily irritated, quick to anger, easily frightened, having an exaggerated startle response, and may suffer from insomnia.
- Negative thoughts. People with PTSD may seem hopeless and negative in their demeanor, and put themselves down. They may express anger, guilt, shame, and fear. They may have difficulty in their interpersonal relationships.
Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)
ASD aligns with the same type of causal events that are featured in PTSD, a significant traumatic event that one was exposed to either directly or indirectly, and with the same types of symptoms, but with the distressing symptoms lasting less than one month.
Adjustment disorder is characterized by an inability to cope with or adjust to a significant life event. A single highly stressful event, or a series of stressful events may cause so much emotional distress that it becomes difficult to function normally in daily life. Symptoms may include feelings of being overwhelmed, neglecting responsibilities, loss of appetite, excess worry, insomnia, and withdrawing from friends and family. Adjustment disorders may last up to six months in duration.
Trauma and a Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorder
When an individual has both a trauma disorder and a substance use disorder, a dual diagnosis is present. It is common for individuals with a trauma disorder to access the effects of alcohol and benzodiazepines as a method of self-medicating the symptoms away. Unfortunately, as tolerance to the effects of the substance increases it takes higher levels of consumption of the substance to achieve the desired effects, and addiction can develop.
A dual diagnosis complicates the overall treatment picture, as both the psychiatric issue and the addiction will need to be addressed and treated. A dual diagnosis treatment provider will have the expertise and the appropriate mental health professionals on staff to manage and treat the dual diagnosis. Both the trauma disorder and the substance use disorder should be treated simultaneously to obtain a successful recovery result.
Residential Trauma Treatment
For individuals whose lives have become overwhelmed by fear and foreboding, or who exhibit the residual signs of attempts to repress the memory in the form of self-destructive behaviors—substance abuse, self-harm, unhealthy eating habits, behavioral addictions like gambling, shopping, sexual—intensive trauma treatment is available. Cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy are two of the most commonly used treatment modalities for trauma.
Residential trauma treatment programs are the best setting for learning how the unresolved trauma has impacted all areas of your life. Therapists will gently guide you towards examining the source of the underlying emotional pain. This is key to recovery, as the source of the pain is what is now manifesting as self-destructive behaviors. Supportive, non-judgmental therapists create a safe, healing environment where trust bonds can be created, fostering a productive therapeutic experience during individual and group therapy sessions.
Treatment Elements for Trauma
Trauma is treated with a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and adjunctive measures that are designed to work in an integrative manner to relieve the trauma symptoms.
- Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy plays a central role in helping someone overcome the effects of trauma. The therapist will guide the individual in exploring the traumatic event and the resulting emotions and symptoms of distress. There are some psychotherapies that are used specifically for treating trauma disorder, including:
- Prolonged exposure therapy
- Cognitive processing therapy
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Medication: For PTSD, antidepressants or benzodiazepines can help mitigate the intensity of the symptoms. These drugs can ease the severity of the panic response that is so common in PTSD, and may also be used as a sleep aid. Antidepressants used to treat PTSD include Zoloft, Effexor, Prozac, and Paxil. Anti-anxiety medications may include Ativan, Valium, Xanax, or Klonopin.
- Groups: Small groups of individuals who share the common experience of trauma will often benefit from discussing their own personal stories. Opening up and sharing with others can sometimes reduce the impact of the event, as well as foster peer support during treatment and recovery.
- EMDR: Eye movement desensitization reprocessing is a form of exposure therapy involving 8 steps. During the sessions, a therapist will ask the client to follow and object or finger with their eyes as it is moved back and forth. At the same time, the therapist will discuss the details of the trauma with the client, which has the effect of diminishing the impact of the event.
- Holistic therapies: Individuals with a trauma disorder often struggle with anxiety symptoms. During treatment, and in recovery, these clients will benefit from practicing holistic activities that reduce stress and help to mend the mind-body-spirit connection. These might include:
- Mindfulness meditation
- Massage therapy
- Regular cardio exercise
- Keeping a journal
- Getting involved in a passion, such as art or music
- A nutritious diet
Treatment for Dual Diagnosis
When the individual has a coexisting substance use disorder, they should enroll in a specialized dual diagnosis program that will treat both the trauma disorder and the substance use disorder at the same time. In addition to the above mentioned treatment elements, treatment for dual diagnosis will also include:
- Detox and withdrawal: It may be necessary for the individual to undergo a medical detox and withdrawal process prior to beginning treatment for both co-occurring disorders. During detox the body and brain will be destabilized temporarily, leading to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. The detox professionals will provide medical interventions and psychological support to ease the discomfort. Detox and withdrawal usually takes about a week.
- Recovery meetings: Some dual diagnosis programs include involvement with a local recovery community where clients will attend meetings. The meetings provide the important peer support piece of addiction recovery.
- Addiction education: It benefits clients in recovery to learn about the impact of drugs or alcohol on the brain. Addiction is a disease of the brain, involving alterations of brain structures as a result of the consumption of the substance of abuse. Learning how addiction happens, and how to avoid relapse through the use of important recovery skills is an intrinsic aspect of addiction treatment.
- Medication-assisted treatment: In some cases, medical support is available through the use of medication-assisted treatment (MAT). These drugs attach to the opioid receptors in the brain and over time can reduce cravings and relapse risk.
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