There are a few approaches with have been validated for the treatment of trauma. This means that there is sufficient supporting research to indicate that these approaches work. In other words, these methods have been described clearly, the studies have been put together in such a way that they comply with scientific principles and have often been repeated a number of times. The work has been published in journals and the quality of the research has been reviewed by other experts in the field. It is wise to work with a therapist who is up-to-date on treatment research. You have the right, in fact I would go as far as to say the responsibility, to ask your potential therapist what approach he or she will use and what research has been done to validate its efficacy.
What do we want to achieve?
In general, when we approach trauma, we attempt to achieve the following:
We try and desensitise you to the trauma. In other words you should eventually be able to think about what happened without a strong physiological or emotional response to it.
You have been able to place the event in a perspective you can live with.
You have changed any dysfunctional beliefs which arose as a result of the traumatic incident(s).
We cannot change what has happened, but we can to some extent determine the effects of the trauma on you.
What is the process?
In general, the psychologist will take down a history from you. This will include information on what happened and general background. She or he is also looking for any former traumatic events, how old you were when they took place and how you responded to them. This all gives an indication of how you will respond to the current event. She or he will also be noting what symptoms you currently have and previous psychiatric problems you may have had. This enables the psychologist to draw up a treatment plan. The psychologist should discuss the diagnosis with you and explain what to expect from treatment.
A general treatment plan for trauma will generally first establish emotional stability. Medication may be suggested, and you will be taught techniques in order contain any unpleasant or overwhelming emotions you may have. When working with trauma, the specific incident is normally a target for treatment.
It is unpleasant having to face traumatic events. This is generally necessary to help you to come to terms with what has happened. You will always be helped to re-attain emotional stability after facing the trauma.
What are validated treatment methods?
Two which are getting good results are prolonged exposure and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR).
Prolonged exposure is a cognitive-behavioural approach and gives good results. It requires extensive exposure to the traumatic event and needs commitment to doing the expected homework. It is not always appropriate as if the client is not going to commit to the required homework it could result in further traumatisation.
EMDR also has homework, but much of the work is done in the sessions. I am not going to describe it in detail, but essentially different aspects of memory, thinking and behaviour are targeted with the use of eye movements. It sounds bizarre, but the research results are good. You can look up the research on EMDR at www.emdr.com. You can check whether your therapist was trained by them on their website. It is important that you do not do EMDR with someone who has not been trained by the EMDR Institute.
On occasion you may be assisted in going to the places where the trauma took place. This is not always possible, but is very useful following certain events. It is important to do it properly as done badly it could result in further traumatisation.