These days, we are all hearing the word trauma mentioned a lot. If you have listened to one of my podcasts – Therapy Chat or Trauma Chat – you might be aware for the first time that some tough times you’ve been through could actually have been traumatic and affected you more than you originally thought.
So now you’re ready to find a therapist to help you deal with the trauma you have been through. I’m sure you’re hoping it will be easy to find a therapist who can help you, but the process of finding a trauma therapist is not as straightforward as it could be.
That’s why I wrote this article. It’s important to know what to look for when searching for a trauma therapist. The first step in that process is to identify what kind of help you need.
There are multiple ways to approach the healing process following traumatic events. Here are some guidelines, and you can learn much more by reading A Comprehensive Guide to Finding A Trauma Therapist, Part One and Part Two.
What Does It Mean When Therapists Say They’re Trauma-Informed or Offer Trauma-Informed Care?
According to the United States Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the core elements of Trauma-Informed Care are:
Patient Empowerment – Services are strengths-based. The Client/Patient is empowered to be a collaborative partner in the therapeutic process.
Choice – Clients/Patients are given the information needed to make decisions about their own treatment.
Collaboration – Treatment planning is done collaboratively between the Client/Patient, their family (when applicable) and their healthcare provider.
Safety – Clients’/Patients’ physical and emotional safety are a focus of treatment.
Trustworthiness – Trauma therapists create clear expectations about what is included in treatment, who will provide services and how care will be provided.SAMHSA, 2016
Trauma-Informed Care and Therapy Should Include:
There is a key assumption in trauma-informed care/therapy, which is that trauma is prevalent and most people have experienced trauma, particularly during childhood years. We know this is true based on the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, which found that at least 61% of US adults have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience or ACE.
Trauma-informed therapists ask clients about their trauma history as part of the assessment process. Now if you’re reading this, and you’re thinking of starting trauma therapy, that may be an intimidating idea. Many people avoid therapy because they are afraid they will have to tell their story over and over.
Do I Have To Tell My Story In PTSD Treatment and Trauma Therapy?
Trauma therapy does include sharing information about what has happened to you and the things you’ve been through in your life. However, it does NOT require you to tell all the details about violent and terrifying things you have witnessed or experienced directly. For example, you don’t have to tell the trauma therapist every time that you have been hurt, but you can let the therapist know that your childhood was painful. And, you didn’t feel loved by your primary caregivers.
Here’s another example based on some of the common situations that bring people to therapy:
Anna (not her real name) started in with me trauma therapy because she had a negative relationship with her body. She couldn’t remember feeling anything but disgust when thinking about her body. She couldn’t even stand to look in the mirror at herself. This individual also hated herself in general. She felt like she would never be able to find a partner because she believed no one could ever love someone like her.
When Anna attended her first intake appointment with me, I asked her why she was wanting to start therapy. She explained how she feels about her body and about herself. So we knew what we wanted to work on changing. The goal of therapy that we set together in that first session was to help Anna develop a more loving and compassionate relationship with her body and herself.
What Happens During An Assessment in Trauma-Informed Care/Therapy?
In that first session, I asked Anna to tell me more about her family relationships and what it was like for her growing up. I asked questions like:
- Who was there when you were growing up? Did you live with your biological parents? Or, did you have any siblings? How far apart in age were they from you and what was your birth order? How did you and your siblings get along? What was your relationship like with your parents? Are your grandparents living? What are their ages or at what age did they die, if they are deceased? And, what kind of relationship do you have with each grandparent?
- Where did you live? What kind of place was it? Did you live in the same place your entire childhood?
- What was school like for you? Did you go to school or were you home schooled? How did you feel at school? What do you remember liking or disliking about school?
- Who is in your life now? Do you have a partner? And, do you have any children?
- Tell me about your relationship history. Do you remember your first romantic relationship? What was it like?
Often these questions provide opportunities to share about your life that may include some examples of traumatic experiences or attachment injuries you have experienced.
How Will Trauma-Informed Care Help My Trauma Heal If I Don’t Tell My Story?
Some things a person may mention that the trauma therapist can make note of as potentially traumatic include:
- Childhood bullying;
- Losing a parent or primary caregiver in childhood;
- Having a parent who was an alcoholic or who abused substances;
- Loss of a sibling during childhood;
- Having a sibling who had an illness or disability;
- Living in a neighborhood where there was poverty and/or high rates of community violence;
- Witnessing verbal or physical conflicts between family members or parents;
- and many more possible situations.
Slow Is Fast In Trauma Therapy
You have recognized that trauma may be impacting your life, and you are ready to seek support and find a trauma-informed therapist. Finding a trauma-informed therapist should not be difficult, but unfortunately, it can be especially when there are many therapists out there describing themselves as trauma-informed or offering trauma-informed care. It can be confusing to find a therapist when you don’t know what to look for.
I recently interviewed Dr. Karol Darsa, author of the book, The Trauma Map: Five Steps to Reconnect With Yourself, on my podcast, Therapy Chat. Dr. Darsa explained some of the mistakes that clinicians can make when treating trauma.
3 Signs Your Trauma Therapist Does Not Provide Trauma-Informed Care
1.Your therapist requests that you tell the story of your trauma/traumas from start to finish and may even ask you to repeat the story/stories more than once.
The old way of doing trauma therapy required that trauma survivors tell their stories over and over for catharsis and healing. This is NOT necessary and can be quite unsafe. Before sharing the details of your story, it is important to find a sense of embodied safety and a trusting therapeutic relationship.
To learn more about the neuroscience-informed process of trauma therapy that I recommend, listen to the full interview with Dr. Karol Darsa in episode 280 of Therapy Chat.
Telling your trauma story when your nervous system can’t handle it can be retraumatizing. It’s your story and you can choose when to share it – and when not to. The most important thing is that your therapist fully recognizes that disclosing your trauma is your decision and that you are NEVER pressured to reveal details of your trauma by your therapist.
A trauma-informed therapist cares about your story and is available to witness the experiences you are ready to share, in a compassionate way that is oriented toward nervous system regulation. They should recognize that pacing is an important aspect of trauma therapy which helps clients tolerate the emotions that arise in a session without becoming emotionally flooded.
Your therapist does not teach you tools to help you learn stabilization.
Processing trauma is so difficult because many people dissociate when revisiting traumatic material. It’s important that your therapist knows how to assess for dissociation, so they can observe when you’re no longer present while telling your story. The therapist should help you co-regulate by noticing when you are dissociative and helping you return to a stable state using the stabilization skills mentioned in number one, above.
Your therapist tells you that telling your trauma story in a group will be healing.
As you begin to notice when you’re not fully in your body, you can use the stabilization skills you’re learning to help yourself return to a grounded state. If your trauma therapist does not recognize the physiological components of trauma that make stabilization a necessary part of healing trauma, they may not really be practicing from a trauma-informed lens.
Telling your trauma story should only be done on your own terms when you feel that you can trust the listener. Giving and receiving support in a group is very healing. However, listening to other groups members’ stories of their traumatic experiences can be retraumatizing for group members. Groups should be focused on psychoeducation and support and skill-building. Emotional processing in groups can be beneficial, but describing events of violence, abuse, horror, loss, etc. is not necessary or helpful and can even be harmful to the person sharing as well as their fellow group members.
The important thing to remember is that everybody is different, and this means everybody’s healing journey will look different.
When you are ready to start trauma therapy, look for a trauma therapist who specializes in the types of things you have been through. If you were physically abused as a child, look for a therapist who specializes in that, rather than someone who specializes in helping survivors of serious motor vehicle collisions. Not all PTSD treatment and trauma therapy are the same. By knowing what to look for, you can find the therapist who is the right fit to help you heal.
Find A Trauma Therapist Who Offers Trauma-Informed Care
If you’re ready to find the trauma therapist that is going to help you have a breakthrough then check out our online therapy directory. Know that we are regularly adding therapists to our directory. Therefore, the list will only continue to grow. To get started follow these steps:
- Head to our find a therapist page.
- Begin looking for a therapist in your area and select one that is a good fit.
- Visit their website and learn about our therapists.
- Get in touch and begin finding hope and healing!
Go to www.traumatherapistnetwork.com to find a trauma therapist in your area. Trauma is real, healing is possible, and help is available at Trauma Therapist Network.