Symptoms of Trauma and Treatment Options
Trauma is the result of deeply stressful events that shatters a child’s sense of security leading a feeling of helplessness and vulnerability.
If a parent or caregiver feels a child is experiencing symptoms of trauma, seek professional help from a trusted physician and/or locate a “trauma informed therapist.” A trauma informed therapist has specific training in and a thorough understanding of the neurological, biological, psychological, and social effects of trauma.
Emotional symptoms of trauma include:
- Anger, irritability and mood swings
- Guilt, shame and self blame
- Confusion, difficulty concentrating
- Anxiety and fear
- Withdrawing from others/isolation
- Feelings of numbness or disconnection.
Physical symptoms of trauma include:
- Insomnia or nightmares
- Easily startled
- Aches and Pains
- Muscle tension
Trauma Treatments and Therapies
There exist a number of options both traditional and “alternative” for the treatment of trauma.
While a number of therapies have shown to be quite helpful, the overall effectiveness is dependent upon the patient, as unlike other illnesses such as diabetes, there is not one specific treatment on which most physicians or therapists agree and there are differing opinions as well as some skepticism about a number of alternative therapies.
“If you have brain cancer, and you say that standing on your head for 20 minutes every morning makes you feel better, it may make you feel better, but you still have brain cancer, and you’ll still probably die from it. But if you say that you have depression, and standing on your head for 20 minutes every day makes you feel better, then it’s worked, because depression is an illness of how you feel, and if you feel better, then you are effectively not depressed anymore. So I became much more tolerant of the vast world of alternative treatments.”
It is important to be mindful that in the absence of a feeling of connection and safety with a therapist or practitioner, it is very hard to move forward with healing. Regardless of how many degrees on the wall or how many years of experience someone may have, if the clinician does not feel like the right match then they probably are not the best choice. There is a difference between being “challenged” in a way that moves one forward and in a way that is counterproductive.
This following list offers brief information and links to resources on a number of the treatment options currently available for trauma. It is not here to recommend one therapy over another as what is effective for one person may be less so for another. Always consult with a physician before beginning any new treatment.
EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization And ReProcessing Therapy is based on the theory that painful memories remain unprocessed in our memory and that neurological changes done through eye movement can assist the patient in recovering . A number of studies have demonstrated that EMDR can alleviate symptoms more rapidly than talk therapy alone. The patient usually reflects on a memory while focusing on an external stimulus such as a finger, a light bar, taps or tones. Because discussing details of a trauma is not required in EMDR, the anxiety associated with revealing those details may be alleviated.
Neurofeedback training for the brain is similar to physical training for the body. It’s non -invasive and involves supplying the brain with feedback of its own activity in order to create self regulation. Neurofeedack has been shown to improve mood, anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, nausea and sleep problems.
Equine and animal therapy involves the use of horses and other animals to help with emotional healing. Therapeutic experiences can include walking, brushing, petting and caring for the animal. It typically does not involve riding a horse. A child unable to experience physical and emotional comfort with others may find they are able to form a bond with a horse or other animal. Equine therapy has been shown to reduce stress and anger, improve social interactions and offer an improved sense of trust and empowerment. It should always be done with a therapist trained in equine or animal therapy.
A number of scientific studies have shown acupuncture to be effective for relief of trauma symptoms. Acupuncture focuses on the flow of energy and that when energy is blocked, physical and emotional illness can occur. An acupuncturist locates points on the body where energy may be blocked and then places needles directly into the skin. Consult a physician before seeking out acupuncture for a child.
Art therapists are trained professionals who have a master’s degree in art therapy. Art therapy combines traditional techniques found in psychotherapy with the creativity of producing art. Art therapy is helpful for children who prefer focusing on another task while discussing complex issues or who are challenged with expressing such issues verbally.
In music therapy a trained, board certified music therapist uses the nonverbal language of music to foster a relationship that can help traumatized children develop: a sense of safety, strategies for stress management, creative expression, communication, social support and positive coping skills. Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness in helping children who have experienced trauma. It can be valuable for children who do not respond to traditional therapy.
Play therapy differs from ordinary play in that the therapist helps the child address and resolve problems through play. Through play, the child is given strategies to cope with difficulties they may be powerless to change. It can also offer the therapist valuable insight into what the child is feeling as many children can better express their needs and feelings through imagination and play.
CBT – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy stems from the belief that it is a person’s perception of events, rather than the events themselves, that determines how they will feel and act. It is a problem solving and goal oriented approach which can treat a number of issues including depression, anxiety, PTSD, obsessions, phobias, substance abuse, insomnia, anger management and more.
DBT – Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is designed to help with extreme emotional instability, which clinicians call “dysregulation” — the inability to manage intense emotions. This often leads to impulsive, self-destructive, or self-harming behaviors. The goal of DBT is to teach (usually adolescents) techniques to help them understand their emotions without judgment and also to give them skills and techniques to manage those emotions and change behaviors in ways that will make their lives better.
Massage can be extremely beneficial for more than just physical injury, pain and everyday stress. The power of touch through massage benefits those dealing with deeper sources of anguish caused by trauma, especially those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. Trauma expert, Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk has written about how in the years following 9/11, a number of people reported massage therapy to be more of a source of relief than was talk therapy.
Tapping – also known as Emotional Freedom Technique, stems from the principle that the cause of negative emotional is a disruption in the body’s energy system. During an EFT/tapping session the person focuses on a specific issue or problem while physically tapping on certain points on their body which release the energy. Many find tapping to be an effective way of clearing out feelings as well as empowering as a person can “tap on a feeling” any time they wish without needing a clinician present.
Yoga therapy uses yoga, meditation and guided imagery to improve emotional and physical health. Trauma informed yoga specifically supports the process of healing for survivors of trauma. Yoga therapy differs from a yoga class in that therapeutic tools are integrated. For trauma survivors the invitation to choose the poses with which they are most comfortable as well as how or if they wish to be touched by the therapist is empowering. Yoga therapy has been shown to be quite beneficial for depression and anxiety.
Acceptance and commitment therapy may be helpful for teens and young adults. ACT is is an action-oriented approach to psychotherapy that stems from traditional behavior therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Clients learn to stop avoiding, denying, and struggling with their inner emotions and, instead, accept that these deeper feelings are appropriate responses to certain situations that should not prevent them from moving forward in their lives. With this understanding, clients begin to accept their issues and hardships and commit to making necessary changes in their behavior, regardless of what is going on in their lives, and how they feel about it.Working with a therapist, a client will learn to listen to their own self-talk, or the way they talk to themselves specifically about traumatic events, problematic relationships, physical limitations, or other issues. They can then decide if an issue requires immediate action and change or if it can—or must—be accepted for what it is while learning to make behavioral changes that can affect the situation.
MNRI, also known as Masgutova Neuro Sensory-Motor Reflex Integration addresses primary reflex patterns. It is a non-verbal, body based therapy that uses light movement and stretching to address the activity in our reflexes in response to stress or trauma. MNRI is reported to be a calming, relaxing experience used with children and adults. It targets the emotional center of the brain without talk therapy in a gentle and noninvasive way.
Somatic or body oriented experiencing encourages communication between the body and mind. SE teaches that trauma is not caused by the event itself but rather develops through the failure of the body and nervous system to process adverse events. Therapy sessions may include,awareness of bodily sensations, dance, breathing techniques, physical exercise and healing touch. People are gently guided to develop increasing tolerance for difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions to help them feel less fearful and hopeless and more engaged with life.
Brainspotting is a relatively new type of therapy designed to help people access, process, and overcome trauma, negative emotions, and pain..According to therapist and creator David Grand, the direction in which people look or gaze can affect the way they feel. During brainspotting, therapists help people position their eyes in ways that enable them to target sources of negative emotion. With the aid of a pointer, trained brainspotting therapists slowly guide the eyes of people in therapy across their field of vision to find appropriate “brainspots,” with a brainspot being an eye position that activates a traumatic memory or painful emotion. Practitioners of the procedure believe it allows therapists to access emotions on a deeper level and target the physical effects of trauma.Both brainspotting and EMDR therapies attempt to help those in therapy reprocess negative events and retrain emotional reactions. EMDR, the older of the two therapies, has been more intensively studied, but therapists are increasingly practicing brainspotting and reporting positive results.
Hypnosis can be used to help patients face and bear a traumatic experience by embedding it in a new context, acknowledging helplessness during the event, and yet linking that experience with empowering memories such as efforts at self-protection, helpful and compassionate relationships, or the ability to control the environment at other times. Individuals can be taught self-hypnosis techniques that allow them to work through traumatic memories and thereby reduce spontaneous and/or intrusive recollections.
Medication and/or Supplements
While the above treatments have shown to be effective in treating trauma, occasionally the physical effects of trauma can be downright crippling. Yoga, EMDR, massage and other therapies are valuable, but will offer little help if a person is unable to muster the energy or motivation to get themselves to the yoga studio or clinicians office. A number of prescription medications and supplements have proven to be quite effective (usually in conjunction with some form of therapy) in the treatment of anxiety, depression and other trauma related conditions. Always consult with a trusted physician or naturopath before beginning any medication or supplement.