Trauma is something that every person experiences in some shape or form at some point in life. Mental health professionals refer to “big T” and “little t” trauma, alluding to the effects that a person experiences as a result of a distressing or overpowering (traumatic) event. Two people might experience the same trauma very differently; one might emerge with unpleasant memories, lingering sadness, and anxiety that seems to ease with time. Meanwhile, another might emerge from the same event with flashbacks, nightmares, acute anxiety, and depression that persist over time and create limitations in daily life.
Big T trauma does not necessarily mean one meets the criteria for PTSD—rather, it implies that the traumatic experience has made a significant impact on the person’s life, and that impact has a lasting effect.
If you are struggling with the effects of big T trauma, you will likely resonate with the following symptoms:
- Shame and self-blame
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping
- A sense of disconnect, even from your own body.
You will likely find it anxiety-provoking to remember the traumatic experience, and begin to avoid people, places, objects, or conversations that remind you of it.
Life may feel overwhelming, and you may struggle to help others understand why it feels that way.
Because trauma is so distressing, it may feel overwhelming to consider reaching out for professional support. You may wonder where to start, and who to turn to for help. The good news is that therapy can help in healing from trauma. Some research demonstrates as much as 60-80% effectiveness in the removal of a PTSD diagnosis, showing that there is hope for those suffering. Here are three important tips to remember when it comes to selecting a trauma therapist.
- The therapeutic relationship
According to research, one of the most essential aspects of trauma therapy is a safe, therapeutic relationship. Seek a therapist who feels safe, trustworthy, calming, attuned, authentic, responsive, and non-judgmental. If you begin to open up and share aspects of your pain, but aren’t received with unconditional positive regard, remember you always have the choice to try a different therapist. An effective therapist will want to know about your perspective and preferences for therapy, your background and any prior experiences with treatment. They will be interested in collaborating with you, and will respect your needs and wishes throughout the process. While you can expect your therapist to provide a sense of direction and guidance, you can also expect them to value your voice and insights into the process.
- Therapist training
The research shows that there is no one “treatment of choice” when it comes to trauma, but it is important to work with a therapist who has training in a trauma-specific approach. There are many examples, and not every approach fits for every person, but some common therapies include Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Cognitive Processing, Internal Family Systems, and Somatic Experiencing. It is helpful to ask your therapist at the start if they have experience working with your type of trauma, and if they specialize in working with trauma. If their answer is no, it may be an indication that you should look for another provider. While there is no single best model of therapy to treat trauma, the evidence shows that Mindfulness is a key element to effective therapy. Ask your therapist how he or she incorporates Mindfulness into treatment.
Additionally, consider looking for a therapy that has some focus on helping your physical body to process through the impacts of trauma. An effective trauma therapist will understand the importance of trauma’s impact on the body, and will help you understand more about how it’s expressed for you. They will have recommendations for how to help your body release and feel better—for example, regular yoga between sessions. Ask your provider how they work with the body in the treatment process.
It’s important to choose a therapist who is “trauma-informed.” This means that a helping professional has received education about trauma, its symptoms, and is sensitive to creating safe experiences (and environments), knowing that triggers can be everywhere. For example, a trauma-informed therapist would be unlikely to ask you to tell the story of your trauma, because they would know that the re-telling can be re-traumatizing. Instead, they would likely invite you to share as much or as little detail as you feel comfortable sharing, so that you feel in control of your emotions enough to feel safe. A trauma-informed therapist is interested in collaboration, and will spend early sessions talking about how to feel safe and grounded during therapy (since it may feel like an overwhelming process, at times). Look for a therapist who emphasizes safety, and will teach you methods of grounding, self-soothing, and emotional regulation at the start, regardless of what model of trauma therapy they provide.
The process of embarking on your healing journey can feel overwhelming, particularly if you are struggling with daily symptoms like depression, anxiety, nightmares, and flashbacks. The first step is to acknowledge the need for support. The second step is to seek support from a therapist who feels genuine, respectful, and caring, and who will offer guidance along the way. If you are ready to schedule an appointment and live in Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas, we can help. Contact us to get started. We offer virtual and in-person sessions.