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What is Trauma-Focused Therapy?

A young woman asks, "What is trauma-focused therapy?"

Many people are asking, “What is trauma-focused therapy?” There’s a good reason for that. Every individual will experience trauma at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, most Americans have also been exposed to a form of severe trauma, either as a one-time event or even long-lasting repetitive traumatic life events. Incidents of trauma can take the form of violence, child abuse, domestic violence, military combat, car accidents, natural disasters, life-threatening illness, fetal trauma, industrial accidents, mass shootings, terrorist attacks, prolonged neglect, or other events.

Do you need to learn more about a trauma therapy program? Call us today at (877) 881-2689.

What Is Trauma?

Trauma can be defined as any of the following:

  • Direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury
  • Other threat to one’s physical integrity
  • Witnessing an event that involves death, injury
  • A threat to the physical integrity of another person
  • Learning about unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threat of death or injury experienced by a family member or other close associate

The person’s response to the event must involve intense fear, helplessness, or horror (or in children, the response must involve disorganized or agitated behavior).”

The Impact of Trauma

Trauma, whether one-time, multiple, or long-lasting repetitive events (complex trauma), affects everyone differently. The impact of trauma can be subtle, hidden, or outright destructive. How an event affects an individual depends on many factors, including:

  • Characteristics of the individual
  • The type and characteristics of the event(s)
  • Developmental processes
  • The meaning of the trauma
  • Sociocultural factors

Most individuals will exhibit resilient responses or brief symptoms or consequences that fall outside of an official diagnosis. For others, trauma problems can persist for years and even decades. These lingering effects of trauma are usually diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

Among those who seek treatment for substance abuse, a dual diagnosis  PTSD and substance abuse disorder is surprisingly common. For most, the traumatic event or events occur first, and then the addiction develops. Substance abuse has been often viewed as “self-medication” to cope with the overwhelming pain that trauma has caused in an individual’s daily living. However, addiction can also lead to trauma, as individuals become more vulnerable while under the influence of substances.

What is Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) is a treatment model that assists both individuals and families in overcoming the negative effects of a traumatic experience. Trauma-focused therapy is an evidence-based method that has been proven effective for treatment after multiple traumas or a single traumatic event, and therapists trained in TF-CBT are frequently able to help those experiencing the emotional effects of trauma to address and resolve these effects.

Trauma therapy occurs in three distinct phases, which includes eight components that are known by the acronym P.R.A.C.T.I.C.E.

Phase One: Stabilization

In phase one, the therapist will walk the clients through the TF-CBT approach, educate patients about trauma, and help them develop the coping skills they will need to promote meaningful healing and development. This phase includes the PRACTICE components of P through C:

P – Psycho-education

This phase starts off therapy by learning about trauma. The patients receive information on trauma and the most common reactions to traumatic experiences, as well at PTSD. The goal is to ensure patients that their reactions are understandable and to validate their feelings.

R – Relaxation Skills

The second component is relaxation and self-care skills. These can help reverse the physiological arousal effects of the trauma they have suffered.

A – Affective Regulation Skills

This is similar to the relaxation skills component. It helps the patients learn helpful strategies for identifying, modulating, and regulating any upsetting affective states that may arise. This is especially helpful for those dealing with a trauma experience.

C – Cognitive Processing Skills

The intent of this component is two-fold. One, to help the client build the necessary coping skills to manage their stress. Two, to achieve meaningful healing from their trauma. Cognitive processing skills help recognize the connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and replace harmful or unhelpful thoughts with more accurate or more helpful ones.

Phase Two: Trauma Narrative

The trauma narrative is the telling of the story of their traumatic experience or experiences. They are often quite difficult to begin, as the emotions engendered by the original trauma can come flooding back as the sufferer recalls the details of the event(s). However, this process will get easier as time goes on.

Most clients find it helpful to begin by focusing on the concrete facts (the who, what, when, and where of the experience). Next, they can add the thoughts and feelings that arose during the experience. 

Phase Three: Integration / Consolidation

The aim of phase three is to consolidate the lessons learned, continue to build skills and improve connections, and prepare for future success. This phase includes the final PRACTICE components of I, C, and E:

I – In Vivo Mastery of Trauma Reminders

Trauma reminders are stimuli that individuals may experience in their daily lives. In fact, they can trigger intense, painful, and often debilitating memories of the trauma suffered. The in vivo mastery component involves helping individuals overcome their avoidance of generalized reminders and work toward mastering more specific reminders. 

C – Conjoint Sessions

The intention of these sessions is to provide key opportunities for the therapist to help families reconnect and plan for continued healing and growth. 

E – Enhancing Safety

This component involves recollecting all of the positive skills and insights gained through therapy and applying it to the future. It is imperative that both individuals and families create plans to deal with the stressors and trauma reminders that will arise in the future.

Get Help Today With Apex Recovery

Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy has proven to be useful among a wide variety of diverse individuals and families. However, there is truly no single formula for treating a dual diagnosis of substance abuse and trauma-related disorders. Therefore, the broad range of therapies available at Apex, such as our Seeking Safety program, and the diversity of highly qualified professionals enable us to provide highly flexible and personalized treatments to our dually diagnosed patients.  

More often than not, people struggling with an addiction have some type of co-occurring mental health diagnosis or other trauma-related disorder. The Apex Recovery addiction treatment team specialize in all aspects of drug and alcohol dependency. However, we also treat co-occurring disorders and help patients learn how to manage the often debilitating effects of traumatic experiences. Contact us today at (877) 881-2689 to begin your recovery journey.

Call Our Toll-Free Hotline 24/7 at 877.881.2689