Mental Health
What is Trauma Focused Therapy

What is Trauma Focused Therapy

5 min read


Megan Caligiuri

What is Trauma Focused Therapy?

Trauma Focused Therapy is an approach to therapy that views client's experiences through the lens of past trauma. Trauma Focused Therapy allows clients to address distressing symptoms and understand the root cause, leading to healing from past trauma. Taking a look at a client's history in terms of their environment, family, biological factors, culture, and childhood experiences can help Trauma Focused Therapy may involve regulating the nervous system through different types of interventions, some including EMDR, CBT, TF-CBT, medication, EFT.  

Trauma Focused Therapy is not one specific intervention, but rather a set of principles that guides and recognizes trauma's impacts on a person. A strong relationship between therapist and client is the foundation of trust and safety, which can lead to recovery from past trauma. Most individuals have experienced some type of trauma in their life, whether it was a single-incident trauma, complex trauma, or attachment-related. Traumas can be single-incident or complex. An example of single-incident trauma would be a car accident or fire. Complex trauma might include childhood sexual abuse or domestic violence.

Attachment-related trauma might involve a disruption in bonding between a primary caregiver and child. A result of attachment-related trauma may be feelings of worthlessness or "being damaged", or being unloveable. Emotional safety, collaboration, trust, choice, and empowerment are all essential in treating trauma. A Trauma Focused approach can allow therapists to better understand eating disorders, addictions, and other behaviors that are typically in response to past traumatic events.  

What Techniques are Used in Trauma Focused Therapy?

Trauma-focused therapy encompasses various therapist techniques aimed at helping individuals recover from traumatic experiences and mitigate the emotional and psychological impact of trauma. These techniques are designed to create a safe and supportive therapeutic environment, promote emotional regulation, facilitate trauma processing, and ultimately, empower clients to heal and regain control over their lives.

One of the foundational therapist techniques in trauma-focused therapy is psychoeducation. Therapists provide clients with information about the effects of trauma on the brain and body, helping them understand the physiological and psychological responses to traumatic events. This knowledge helps clients normalize their reactions and reduces self-blame, shame, or confusion often associated with trauma.

Establishing safety is a critical component of trauma-focused therapy. Therapists work to create a secure and non-threatening therapeutic space where clients feel safe to explore and discuss their traumatic experiences. This may involve setting clear boundaries, fostering trust, and helping clients develop healthy coping strategies for managing overwhelming emotions.

Grounding techniques are frequently employed to help clients stay present in the therapy session and regulate intense emotions. These techniques can include mindfulness exercises, controlled breathing, or sensory awareness activities. Grounding helps clients manage dissociation and prevent becoming overwhelmed by traumatic memories or flashbacks.

Trauma-focused therapy often incorporates the development of emotion regulation skills. Clients learn strategies to identify, label, and manage their emotions in a healthy way. These skills empower clients to better cope with distressing feelings triggered by trauma and reduce emotional dysregulation.

Exposure therapy is another common technique used to process traumatic memories. In a safe and controlled manner, clients are encouraged to gradually confront and process their traumatic experiences. This process allows clients to reprocess and integrate the traumatic memories, reducing their emotional intensity and power.

Cognitive restructuring techniques help clients challenge and reframe negative and self-destructive thought patterns that often result from trauma. By identifying and replacing these distorted thoughts with more balanced and rational ones, clients can reduce symptoms like anxiety and depression.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a specialized technique within trauma-focused therapy. EMDR involves guided eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation to process traumatic memories and reduce their emotional charge. This approach can help clients desensitize from traumatic triggers and reprocess traumatic experiences.

Finally, trauma-focused therapy often includes a focus on building resilience and post-traumatic growth. Therapists help clients recognize their strengths, develop a sense of empowerment, and foster a more positive outlook on their future. This shift from victimhood to survivorship is a fundamental aspect of the healing journey.

In conclusion, trauma-focused therapy encompasses a range of therapist techniques designed to support individuals in overcoming the effects of trauma. By providing psychoeducation, establishing safety, teaching grounding and emotion regulation skills, and utilizing exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring, therapists create a path to healing. Additionally, specialized techniques like EMDR and a focus on resilience-building contribute to a comprehensive approach to trauma recovery. These therapist techniques empower clients to regain control over their lives and move toward a healthier and more fulfilling future.

Benefits of Trauma Focused Therapy

Some benefits of Trauma Focused Therapy includes understanding trauma and its impact on the brain and body, re-establishing a sense of safety in the body and the world, identifying trauma triggers, creating healthy coping mechanisms, decreasing distress, and reprocessing trauma to regulate the nervous system. A helpful resource for clients to better understand trauma and its impact on the brain and body is the book 'The Body Keeps The Score'. I often encourage my clients to read through this book as we work together to reprocess trauma. Understanding the impacts of trauma on the nervous system can be cathartic in itself, allowing clients to feel less isolated in their experience and dysregulation.

Oftentimes, clients may report chronic pain or illness that can link directly to past unresolved trauma. Experiencing trauma can lead to a higher risk of health problems. This can resolve or improve with trauma treatment. It's very important when seeking Trauma Focused Therapy to find a therapist who has specialized training in how to treat trauma. As a client, you should never feel that you have to retell your trauma history from A-Z without preparation and stabilization as this can be re-traumatizing in itself. Clients should feel a sense of safety and trust with their provider, and should also feel stabilized enough to begin exploring trauma.

Is Trauma Focused Therapy Right for Me?

Determining if trauma-focused therapy is right for you involves considering several factors. Firstly, assess whether you have experienced a traumatic event or series of events that continue to impact your daily life, emotions, or relationships. Trauma-focused therapy is particularly beneficial for individuals struggling with symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, depression, or difficulty maintaining healthy relationships due to unresolved trauma. Try this short quiz to see what type of therapy is right for you.

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About the author

Megan 'Cali' Caligiuri is the Senior Growth Marketing Manager at MyWellBeing. As a seasoned marketing and creative leader with a passion for mental health, Cali is committed to reducing the stigma of therapy, easing the stress of connecting with the right practitioner, and empowering every individual to develop a more loving, healthy relationship with themselves and those around them.

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