Most therapists are trauma-informed. This is different than trauma treatment. There is no trauma board or body to regulate or define what is trauma treatment. Trauma treatment, however, is when you work with a mental health professional using a trauma specialty on specific targets to resolve the symptoms of trauma. A few different modalities, such as EMDR, Brainspotting, Prolonged Exposure, Cognitive Processing, Somatic Experiencing and Sensorimotor, help to target and then resolve symptoms of trauma. Trauma treatment is usually less 'talk' therapy and more targeted treatment with some verbal processing as needed.
Trauma Treatment works by identifying the impact and symptoms of the trauma. The goal in treatment is to desensitize the symptoms by a series of different techniques, most notably, bilateral stimulation. Desensitization is the repeated exposure to the thought, feeling or imagery so it becomes more distant and less activated/charged or emotional. It does not change the memory; it changes the intensity of it or the impact it has on your life in present time. The trauma therapist also first facilitates resourcing which helps your mind or body to feel some intrinsic confidence on its own.
The therapy usually ends when the client starts to feel less impacted in the present day by the traumatic events of the past. When the symptoms reduce, the therapist can guide the client to start focusing on their present life and future goals. Trauma-Informed treatment (Talk therapy) understands the impact of traumatic events on your present symptoms but does not necessarily use a technique to help desensitize symptoms in an efficient way.
Trauma-Informed Therapist (talk therapy) versus Trauma Specialist:
A trauma specialist has first hand experience versus content only experience. A trauma specialist is trained and certified in experiential modalities that help discharge symptoms of trauma and restore functioning. The specialist has real competencies to work with acute, past and complex trauma. Most therapists have witnessed the impact of past trauma with their clients. This does not make the therapist a trauma specialist.
The largest difference is that a Trauma-Informed Therapist understands the impact of traumatic events on your present symptoms from educational knowledge or having had clients with trauma. A Trauma Specialist works to discharge the traumatic impact and has first hand experience, knowledge and skill with acute, chronic and complex trauma. Working with the symptoms from trauma in the past versus acute trauma or complex PTSD are completely different.
How to know if you have found a Trauma Specialist?
There is a a market now to capitalize on trainings on trauma. More and more therapists are advertising their specialty as trauma so it can be confusing. Here are a few questions you can ask a therapist if you are interested in trauma treatment:
1) Do you have techniques and skills specifically to discharge trauma not just understand trauma? If yes, which ones?
2) Have you been trained by education only or experiential practice with a trained witness?
3) Do you have certification in one of the trauma modalities that discharge trauma? (EMDR, Brainspotting, Somatic Experiencing, Prolonged Exposure, Sensorimotor, Cognitive Processing)
4) How many years of experience do you have working specifically with trauma survivors?
5) Do you have experience with acute, chronic, past and complex trauma? (Most therapists have worked with past trauma; trauma therapists work with it all).
Trauma therapists have certification after years of training with trained teachers, with hours of clinical hours and personal sessions. Trauma therapists are approved through the organization issuing this certification. Certification is received after hours of observed clinical experience and practice. It can be confusing as some trainings provide 'certifications' that do not require any experience or skilled observer. For example, a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional (CCTP) is a knowledge based certification only even though it states certification. This certification is helpful for a trauma informed therapist but different than a trauma specialist who has witnessed skills, techniques and hands on experience with treatment effective outcomes.
When in doubt, it is always best to check various sources. Trauma therapists are often fully booked from client to client referrals and professional referrals and do not need to market themselves. There may be a wait to get an appointment. It is helpful to find referrals and look up credentials for certification on the following websites:
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