Talking therapy and trauma
Although there are around 400 types of therapy available, from EMDR to hypnotherapy, talking therapy is generally one of the only options available on the NHS. Whether in the form of counselling, CBT or interpersonal therapy, talking therapy tends to be our go-to when we’re struggling.
Although talking therapy can be an excellent solution for a variety of mental health conditions, it isn’t always effective in dealing with trauma. But why is this? In order to understand how trauma should be treated, let’s take a look at how it works.
What is trauma?
Trauma is an emotional response to a shocking and upsetting event. Whether as a result of a one-off or ongoing experience, trauma is your body’s protective instincts kicking in.
The long-term effects of trauma include:
- Social withdrawal
- Ongoing fear and anxiety
- A sense of disconnect from your emotions
- Uncontrollable mood swings
- Flashbacks and nightmares
- Suicidal thoughts and feelings
Whether or not the trauma you’ve experienced is physical, it can still have a strong psychological effect on you. You might find yourself feeling either overwhelmed by emotions or numb to them – both of which are your brain’s defensive response.
Trauma can be as diverse as the individuals who experience it. You might find it difficult to identify a traumatic experience because it doesn’t fit into the mould of what you’d imagine trauma to be. Although there are three main types of trauma, these certainly aren’t a definitive list.
The main types of trauma:
- Acute trauma is the result of a single incident such as a car accident or sudden violent event.
- Chronic trauma happens when a person is exposed to prolonged trauma, such as domestic violence and abuse or a long-term serious illness.
- Complex trauma is exposure to multiple and varied traumatic experiences. It’s often the result of childhood abuse, domestic violence or neglect.
What is talking therapy?
Talking therapy can be traced back to the 1800s. Sigmund Freud and Josef Brueur are claimed to be the “founders” of psychotherapy, an umbrella term which includes talking therapy. Together, they created the basic model for psychotherapy which is still used in many ways today.
The principle behind talking therapy is listening to the patient’s thoughts and feelings and trying to bring hidden or repressed emotions to the surface. It deals with a broad range of mental health conditions including depression and anxiety through sessions which normally last around 50 minutes.
Statistics show that the average number of talking therapy sessions accessed on the NHS in 2020-21 was 7.5 sessions. Although this might be enough for some people, this is often only the start for individuals suffering with trauma or PTSD. Uncovering such difficult and traumatic emotions and experiences in such an intrusive way might leave you feeling even more vulnerable and emotional afterwards.
What is PTSD?
PTSD happens when your brain gets “trapped” in trauma mode. It means that your brain and body are on constant alert for danger, which can have a detrimental impact on your day to day life.
You may have heard PTSD referred to as “shell shock”, which traces back to its war-related origins; however, it can happen to anyone. It’s often linked to mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and phobias, and can show itself through both physical and psychological symptoms.
If you’re experiencing PTSD, you might find yourself constantly feeling on edge and easily startled. Hyperarousal is a common symptom which makes it incredibly difficult to relax, and might be accompanied by flashbacks or nightmares of the event and the need to avoid certain people or situations. These symptoms can be incredibly distressing; causing the sufferer to potentially turn to destructive coping strategies such as self-harm or substance abuse to try numb the pain.
Why talking therapy and trauma aren’t compatible
Talking about a traumatic event can be like reliving it. This experience can be equally traumatising, bringing back unwelcome memories and feelings which might leave you feeling much worse afterwards.
The different types of talking therapy include:
- CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)
- Behavioural Activation
- Guided self-help
- Interpersonal therapy
- Couples therapy
It’s not uncommon for people dealing with trauma and PTSD to find that talking therapy exacerbates their symptoms, so don’t worry if these types of therapy haven’t worked for you in the past. It doesn’t mean that your mental health can’t be improved – it just means that a different approach is required.
Traumatic experiences can be incredibly uncomfortable to talk about. You might be unable to open up about difficult events in your past, especially if they are highly sensitive and personal. It’s perfectly normal for your brain to repress these feelings and memories in order to protect you.
Different types of therapy are required for different mental health conditions and to suit the needs of the individual. Whereas talking therapy might send your nervous system into overdrive, sound therapy can be soothing and noninvasive.
Talking therapy also doesn’t always address the cause of your problems – it might deal with the symptoms rather than the origin of the trauma. That’s because only 12% of your brain is made up of your conscious mind, whereas 88% of it is your subconscious. These different parts of the brain need to be addressed in order to fully recover from trauma or PTSD.
How Ed can Help?
Whatever your experience of trauma, there is a way out. Ed can Help you to regain control over your life and find happiness again.
Our sound-based therapy app is a clinical tool which can be accessed from the comfort of your own home. Each 20 minute session breaks down unhelpful thoughts and feelings to help your brain regain its natural state of peace and happiness.
There’s no need to worry about discussing your trauma with a stranger – all you need to do is open the app, plug in your headphones in, and settle back in a quiet place where you won’t be disrupted.