Many people come to our practice seeking treatment to heal from the impact of trauma in their lives, and are often feeling nervous about the prospect of doing so for a variety of reasons. Some may have a diagnosis of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), while others may not have the diagnosis but recognize that the functioning of their lives has been significantly and negatively impacted by their having experienced trauma. In many cases, people have been dealing with the effects of trauma in their lives for so many years that they don’t even believe it’s possible to heal from it. Others are hesitant because they are worried that they are going to have to re-live every detail of their trauma, and that doing so may actually make things worse.
Trauma has a profound and lasting impact on survivors. I liken it to putting on a new pair of glasses that you can’t take off; before a trauma, the world looks like a generally safe place where you can develop trusting relationships and reasonably get your needs met. After a trauma, the lens through which survivors view the world is altered; it no longer feels like a safe place and instead is a place where danger can lurk around any corner and people are not to be trusted. For many survivors of childhood trauma, the world never felt like a safe place to begin with- they never even had an opportunity to be safe and have trusting relationships with caregivers. For people who have experienced trauma, they may struggle in virtually every area of their life, from self-perception to interpersonal relationships to their ability to function day to day. Combine that with the pervasive sense of hopelessness that many trauma survivors struggle with, and it’s no wonder that people are often overwhelmed by the prospect of seeking treatment.
The hopeful news is that research shows us that treatment works. In our practice, we use both DBT and CBT to help individuals recover from psychological trauma. The behavioral control and emotion regulation skills of DBT help people feel empowered to manage their trauma-related symptoms, giving back to them a sense of control in their own lives. By definition, trauma is something that is out of control, so this fundamental first step is transformative for survivors. For some, this alone is enough to help them increase their functioning and improve the quality of their lives. Others will choose to pursue exposure therapy, which is a key component of CBT and the DBT Prolonged Exposure protocol. Our therapists have the training and the experience to safely and effectively guide clients through exposures in conjunction with coping techniques, so that they can heal and not be re-traumatized by the process.
When people experience significant traumas in their lives, the result often feels like their mind and body are stuck in two different time zones. Even though their mind can reasonably know that they are past that experience, their body still feels as if it happened yesterday and could happen again at any moment. It is hard to create and sustain a life worth living under this cloud of trauma. With the proper treatment in the context of a strong therapeutic relationship, trauma can become something that is part of a person’s past but that does not have to define their present or their future.