9 Minutes

By THE BALANCE
Fact checked

More than 50 % of people experience trauma at some point in their lives. Trauma occurs after one particular stressful event or a series of events that may prove overwhelming over time. Such situations require counseling that aims to reduce such intense and stressful feelings so that one can cope with everyday life without being triggered or stuck in the past. These traumatic situations do not have to be traumatic for every individual – in fact, trauma varies from individual to individual and depends on each person’s own unique experiences. 

Trauma counseling is basically a safe space that allows an individual to discuss their thoughts, feelings, and emotions in a confidential environment. It allows a person dealing with trauma to move past that particular hindrance and live a life that is not determined by the trauma. A person’s past and present experiences, as well as any related problems, are all communicated.

What is Grief Counseling?

The purpose of this intimate discourse is for the individual to overcome their struggles and for the therapist to aid in this process. Trauma counseling utilizes tons of different techniques, which we will discuss later, but the gist of the counseling is teaching an individual how to deal with potentially stressful situations that are created because the individual has allowed the trauma to govern their lives in one way or another – a counselor simply tries to get rid of this unnecessary importance placed on the trauma. To put it another way, trauma counseling helps an individual stay grounded and understand their emotions, and also be present in the now, shifting focus away from irrational thoughts and hyperarousal.

There is not one or two, or even three, trauma counseling techniques. Instead, there are dozens of techniques that a therapist or counselor utilizes in order to help a patient defeat their imagined negative beliefs, distorted thoughts, and buzzing emotions. All of the techniques aim to integrate the trauma into one’s life, so the person learns to live with it instead of running from it. A handful of techniques used in trauma counseling (which are also used in trauma therapy and are not restricted to only counseling) are described as follows:

1. Behavior therapy – a common form of behavior therapy is exposure therapy. This is essentially a harsh technique in which one is placed right in front of their fear. For example, if someone is deathly afraid of airplane crashes due to a related occurrence and has formed a traumatic memory, they are reminded of the instances which are bound to trigger their trauma. Of course, the actual event does not occur; merely thoughts and emotions are instigated. This results in the person seeking counseling to learn that the fear is simply in their minds and the emotions activated are negative and irrational. Eventually, the fear decreases, which in turn decreases the trauma – this has also been proven through research. There are different kinds of exposure therapy as well, namely, imaginal exposure (feared happening is only imagined as vividly as possible), systematic desensitization (exposure to increasing fear-inducing events, relaxation is also used in conjunction with this), and in vivo exposure (exposure within therapy).

2. Pharmacotherapy – this is when medications are used in order to manage traumatic reactions such as depression, hyperarousal, irritability, emotional reactivity, and other intrusive symptoms. It must be noted that these medications do not make the trauma disappear, it only helps to control the consequent reactions and behaviors that traumatic memory can foster. This technique works best when used alongside behavioral therapy.

3. Cognitive behavior therapy – short for CBT, this targets an individual’s irrational and negative thoughts and aims to replace them with skillful ones. In cognitive-behavioral therapy, the thoughts, aka cognitions as well as behaviors, are challenged and rectified using both cognitive and behavioral techniques. For example, individuals are taught breathing techniques (behavioral element) so that they can better manage their anxiety (cognitive element). Exposure therapy may also be used in CBT.

What is Mental Health Counseling?

4. Hypnotherapy – here, a professional hypnotherapist places an individual in hypnosis and then talks to them about the traumatic event. The workings behind this phenomenon are that hypnotherapists believe that it is in a hypnotic state that a person can truly come in contact with their fearful memories and traumatic past, which is a primary step in the healing process.  

5. Psychodynamic therapy – the aim of this is to find out the particular stage of life the trauma occurred because that is where the individual is “stuck in.” After its identification, the psychotherapist analyses which aspects of the traumatic event are impeding the person’s life, helping them come one step closer to reducing the impact of the trauma on their everyday dealings.

6. Certified rapid resolution therapy – short for RRT, is an approach in which negative emotions and behavioral effects of the traumatic experiences are replaced with positive healing behavioral changes by clearing out the problem from its roots. This method has provided a revolutionary impact on people suffering from PTSD and other trauma.  

There is a fine line between therapy and counseling; in many instances, the two overlap. The main difference, however, between trauma therapy and trauma counseling is that therapy is a long-term process and continues for a much longer period of time. On the other hand, trauma counseling has a shorter time frame. Counseling focuses on the problem and its solutions, in our case, trauma. It also places more attention on the present rather than diving deep into the past, as in the case of therapy.

Therapy is also more focused on the individual and works to improve the person, their thoughts and behaviors, and underlying cognitions that determine the actions. A counselor does not do a whole psychological run down; instead, he/she assists in developing solutions to a hindrance in one’s life. A therapist is required to take a psychological and historical profile in order to gain more insight into the treatment plan. Therapy also incorporates skills needed for self-reflection and betterment. It must not be mistaken the counselors do not help in such self-improvements because they do, in fact, guide their clients to lead better lives without the distress of past traumatic events, problems in relationships, etc., just as therapists do. 

The difference lies in their solutions; counselors have short-term solutions while therapists have long-term solutions. In conclusion, trauma therapy and trauma counseling have many similarities, but some differences set them apart so that they go by different names and follow different (also some similar) treatment methods.

One of the bigger benefits of trauma counseling is that you shall understand how to stop living in the moment of trauma or that time in your life.  A lot of people who have experienced some extreme trauma have a difficult time pulling themselves away from that time in their life, which is a normal response. Counseling could give you the tools you require to stop being victimized every day and to understand how to get a grip of your thoughts when it comes to whatever you have been traumatized by. Mainly, it is about understanding that you are not what happened to you, but instead, you are whoever you select, being a day in and day out.

Counseling may also help you live a more fulfilling life. Given that you have experienced some horrors in your life, it is very likely that you also have trust issues, even with the ones you feel closest to. Having such issues could make it extremely difficult to have secure and healthy personal relationships. Fearing that someone is going to harm you, mentally or physically, makes it harder for you to have the relationship you could potentially have with them. It can also ruin relationships you have with individuals in your school or at work. Getting through this will lead you to see others in a very different way and much more positively.

Counseling could also give you a better support system of individuals that know and get what you are going through and help you to push forward from those moments in life so that they no longer impact you every day. Counselors can provide you with techniques for controlling your distress; This way, if you experience something that has you feeling very anxious, fearful, or other emotions, you can apply those techniques to help you manage and contain those feelings and move on with your life.

A trauma counselor helps individuals go through and explain traumatic events that they have suffered and develop techniques to help manage the resulting emotions. A person’s reaction to a traumatic event can be complex and can change hugely from one person to another. Coping with emotional stress, which can be due to some trauma, may often be hard without expert help. A trauma counselor could play an important role in helping individuals deal with the trauma and the symptoms that they still experience.

Although situations can be different, trauma counselors mostly work with individuals for a few months or longer at times. Since there are different types of trauma therapy for different kinds of patients, counselors evaluate the needs of their clients, traumatic situations in their life, and character to determine the right type of approach. Every treatment plan is different. But there may be similar approaches and techniques used.

A trauma counselor may be called upon in cases such as natural disasters to help a whole community start to recover. They have to be experienced and skilled practitioners to give effective and empathetic support without becoming too invested or emotionally involved in their cases. The role is significantly important since the after-effects of trauma can continue to go on without stopping leaving a mental scar if it is not dealt with and can go on to impact someone’s life rather harshly. Counseling of trauma provides a space where people can discuss their experiences and develop techniques to handle the ongoing problems they face as a result.

Regardless of the method used for counseling, trauma counselors help their patients learn strong ways to deal with the feelings which can come to be due to trauma. This can include helping people regulate strong emotions and enhance the ability to trust others once more. Trauma counselors also help patients connect and access more resources, such as support groups.

Counselors and therapists are both trained in their own areas of specialty. They can also hold certifications or licenses as needed by their state. To be a therapist, a psychotherapist has to be licensed in the state they are in. To obtain the license, the individual has to take and pass an exam that is administered by their state. Therapists normally display their licenses and diplomas in their offices.

It is important to consider such needs, along with the educational level of each trauma therapist in relation to your treatment requirements. A reputable therapist shall have either a master’s level or doctorate level education as well as a license to be able to provide their services. To be a trauma counselor and treat patients in a clinical setting, counselors should at least have a master’s degree in counseling. As part of their education, a counselor has to take courses related to their specialty, which includes therapy techniques.

Depending on the law of your state, reputable counselors might also need licenses to be allowed to practice counseling services. An example is, “LPC” which stands for “licensed professional counselor.” Additionally, different counselors will often obtain different certifications, for example, those related to addiction and marriage counseling. Do note that some counselors who advertise their services do not have licenses or are not regulated, so you should ask in advance to make sure.

Counseling psychologists could have a doctorate level degree and specialize in a lot of different topics. All in all, a counselor can be a therapist only if the individual meets the requirements and gets the certification to practice.

FAQs