Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Trauma

5 Secrets About Trauma Therapists

The inside scoop only they can tell you.

“I could never do what you do,” is a phrase I often hear when I tell people I’m a trauma therapist. I get it. Who would choose to be constantly exposed to the consequences of malicious child abuse, immeasurable loss, sexual violence, and other traumatic experiences? My colleagues and I make this choice every day, and we do so with resiliency, compassion, and courage. Here are five insights into this unique group of clinicians.

Sydney Sims/Unsplash
Source: Sydney Sims/Unsplash

1. Many of us have experienced trauma

Many trauma therapists have experienced trauma because a great many people have experienced trauma. Moreover, many who understand trauma in a direct, personal way naturally feel motivated to help others heal from it and are in a special position to be able to do so as a result of their lived experience. “The thing about the experience of trauma is that we all experience it,” reports Alexandra Fliess, LCSW. “It may not be the exact same precipitating event, but we have the shared experience with our clients.”

Many trauma therapists are drawn to this work because of their own trauma histories. “Most of the therapists I know, myself included, have experienced trauma,” states Maggie Reynolds, LCPC. “More importantly, we have experienced healing and recognize the necessity of counseling that specifically addresses trauma. Being able to empathize not only with what my clients have been through in the past but also what it is like to be a client working through a healing process in counseling, is invaluable,” explains Reynolds.

2. We often use “strange” interventions

You’ve heard of talk therapy, but what about neurofeedback, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), or expressive arts therapy? Trauma therapists integrate interventions from a variety of psychological theories and disciplines in order to meet the needs of our clients. These methods can be highly effective, but they tend to appear quite strange.

“My secret, not so well kept, to helping my clients to not just cope with their struggles but to heal them at their core — is neurofeedback,” states Leanne Hershkowitz, LPC. “Neurofeedback teaches you to calm and regulate your own brain waves. And the electrical circuits of the brain are far, far more important than most people realize.”

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is used to help people recover from trauma and other distressing life experiences, including PTSD, anxiety, depression, and panic disorders. EMDR is a “strange” looking intervention due to its use of bilateral stimulation, such as side-to-side rapid eye movements, right-to-left audio cues, and side-to-side tactile tapping. “There are patterns, body sensations, and behaviors linked to trauma that we may experience with little cognitive insight,” explains Kayla Reda, LPC. “EMDR, through bilateral stimulation, snaps us out of those cycles — offering an opportunity to wake up from a metaphorical sleep-waking state.”

Psychodrama is an action-orientated therapy in which spontaneous dramatization, role-playing, and dramatic self-presentation are used to investigate, gain insight into, and heal trauma. “Our issues are in our tissues. Meaning that our past is stored in our bodies,” reports Eve Brownstone, LCPC. “Psychodrama helps us get out of our heads and into our bodies through action.”

3. We never work alone

Trauma therapists rely on a network of people who assist them in treatment. Team members can include medical doctors, psychiatrists, teachers, caseworkers, co-therapists, and juvenile/parole officers. Additional support may also come from people in the clients’ lives who are not directly involved in treatment and who may never meet the therapist. Such people might be family members, friends, mentors, community members, coworkers, and even pets as a client’s social support system can have a strong impact upon their success in trauma treatment.

One of the most important networks of support for every trauma therapist consists of other therapists. “I could never do the work that I do without supportive clinicians in my practice with me,” states Michael Shahan, MFT. “After a particularly difficult client, knowing that I have multiple therapists across the hall that love and care about me and who are willing to talk about it for a minute or two gives me the strength to keep moving. So many times, I’ve walked across the hall, simply hugged another therapist, and walked away telling them that’s all I needed.”

4. We’re at risk for vicarious trauma

Trauma therapists are highly susceptible to developing vicarious trauma, a condition that’s unique to those in social services, and is defined as “negative changes in the clinician’s view of self, others, and the world resulting from repeated empathic engagement with patients’ trauma-related thoughts, memories, and emotions” (Quitangon, 2019). Vicarious trauma is a serious condition, as it not only impacts therapists but also all of the clients under their care.

Due to these risks, trauma therapists must practice self-care. “Consistently processing the traumatic experiences of others, without proper self-care, can lead to negative consequences for the mental health professional,” claims Dr. LaRonda Starling. “Experiencing a trauma response, emotional exhaustion, and weariness due to consistent exposure to the trauma of others is possible but not inevitable with good self-care and a healthy social support network.”

5. We go to therapy

There are doctors who don’t attend their annual checkups, accountants who are late filing their own taxes, and stylists who haven’t had a haircut in years. And there are therapists who don’t go to therapy. Yet, there are many clinicians, especially trauma therapists, who do attend therapy. “Some of the best therapists practice what they preach,” declares Dana Carretta-Stein, LPC. “To be a good therapist, you should know what it’s like to be on the other side of the couch. And a great therapist is always working on themself.”

Some therapists are in therapy for years, while others receive therapy intermittently depending upon their needs. “When we think about self-care as therapists, it should be a holistic approach including mind, body, and spirit,” states Dr. Starling. “What better way to care for your mind than to go to therapy to ensure your own good mental health? In this way, therapy can be used as a preventative measure or as an active way to take care of our own symptoms and issues. I see it as the equivalent of a personal trainer also having their time in the gym or a physician going to their own annual checkup.”

I’m proud to be a part of this unique and brave group of clinicians. Their dedication and sacrifices are remarkable, and I write this post as a tribute to them.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory. ​​​​​​​

References

Emdria. (1995-2022). What is EMDER Therapy? EMDR International Association. https:// www.emdria.org/about-emdr-therapy.

Quitangon, G. (2019, July 26). Vicarious Trauma in Clinicians: Fostering Resilience and Preventing Burnout. Psychiatric Times, 36 (7).

advertisement