The Best Therapies for Treating Trauma

When treating trauma, it's helpful to opt for specialized therapies in this field. There are different types backed by good scientific evidence. Discover them in this article.
The Best Therapies for Treating Trauma
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 13 June, 2023

The best therapies for treating trauma are usually divided into two areas. There are those that focus on the adverse event itself and those that address the symptoms. Both types of psychological interventions are becoming more frequent. This is because many people need to heal wounds produced by traumatic experiences.

Paul Conti is one of the most renowned psychiatrists in this area. In his book, Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic (2022) he states that almost 70 percent of the population has gone through or will go through a traumatic event at some point in their lives.

According to the nonprofit organization, Mental Health America, traumatic events are the leading cause of long-term disability worldwide. Moreover, trauma-related anxiety and depression disorders are among the most common conditions for which people seek treatment. Therefore, it’s essential for valid and effective resources to be available.

What we don’t understand is that people are fundamentally changed by trauma. They have changed biologically. They change in terms of gene expression, hormones, chemicals, and neurotransmission, and that goes on forever.”

-Paul Conti-

The best therapies for treating trauma

Sad man thinking about the best therapies to treat traumas
Therapies that are particularly oriented to the treatment of trauma are the most effective in giving us back control of our lives.

Psychological trauma doesn’t only impact the brain. It doesn’t only alter our ways of thinking, feeling, remembering, or processing reality. In fact, these painful events also adhere to the body. Indeed, research conducted by the University of Cape Town (South Africa) states that traumas affect our entire biology in a lasting way.

The sooner the therapeutic approach begins, the greater the evolution will be. However, the problem is that many people who start therapy have spent years – even decades – dealing with the invisible wound of trauma.

Finding the path to recovery and healing can be long and difficult, but there are tools to get there. Here are some of the best therapies for treating trauma:

You might also like to read Therapies of Contextual Psychology

1. Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a treatment with scientific evidence that favors the reformulation of mental schemas associated with trauma.

  • The objective of this model is that the individual integrates the lived experience with a lower burden of suffering. Moreover, they develop a healthier vision of themselves and the world. (Resick et al., 2008b; Williams et al., 2011).
  • It allows them to challenge and change the dysfunctional beliefs that keep them tied to the traumatic event.

This model was developed by Dr. Patricia Resick in the 1990s. It works on the painful cognitions that originate in these contexts. A study conducted by the University of Missouri-St Louis (USA) refers to its usefulness in the treatment of female victims of sexual assault.

2. EMDR (eye movement) therapy

EMDR therapy is one of the most effective for treating trauma. It was developed in the 1980s by Francine Shapiro, a neurologist and cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist. She was looking for an intervention plan with better results for war veterans.

  • It’s based on the technique of eye movement or bilateral stimulation.
  • This type of brain stimulation helps the patient to process their trauma until their emotional pain is mitigated.
  • During this process, emotions, memories, and images are evoked that the patient and psychologist work on, to integrate the painful experience.
  • The EMDR model is based on the assumption that rhythmic eye movements allow traumatic memories to be processed in a less disturbing way.

An article published in Frontiers in Psychology (2017) states that EMDR therapy is also beneficial in treating psychotic or affective symptoms and chronic pain. The general idea that’s emerged from this research is that EMDR can be especially effective in people who experienced complex and repetitive trauma over time. For example, emotional or sexual abuse in childhood.

3. Robert Cicione’s Trauma Relief Unlimited (TRU)

Another recommended therapy for treating trauma is Trauma Relief Unlimited (TRU) created by Dr. Robert Cicione. It focuses more on the symptoms than the origin of the traumatic experience. The goal of this therapy is to reduce the entire clinical picture associated with the effects of post-traumatic stress.

  • It’s a non-verbal therapy of body movements and artistic techniques.
  • The patient is guided to make drawings that act as cathartic resources.
  • The therapist guides the patient to carry out a series of movements to relieve anxiety and stress.
  • It’s not a therapeutic resource aimed at depression or the origin of the traumatic experience. Instead, it seeks to reduce emotional pain, body reactivity, stress, and anguish.

Many people let time pass before seeking help for trauma experienced in their childhood or adolescence. Not doing so completely conditions their existence. Psychological therapy is the best tool for regaining control of their lives.

4. Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT)

Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) is a really useful model for addressing the painful events of childhood and adolescence. In fact, trauma associated with abuse and/or maltreatment experienced at this time is the most frequent. This therapy:

  • Helps the patient to recognize how psychological trauma works and understand their own reactions to the experience.
  • Helps the patient to shape a healthier mental approach in which to reduce distressing and distorted visions.
  • Employs techniques such as cognitive restructuring, emotional regulation, and exposure to aversive stimuli, if applicable.

5. Somatic therapies

Among the most interesting and useful therapies for treating traumas are somatic ones. The Somatic Experiencing (SE) approach was developed by Dr. Peter A. Levine. He claims that any painful experience that’s not processed properly produces dysfunction in the nervous system.

This translates into the appearance of symptoms such as continually being on alert, processing everything as a threat, insomnia, concentration problems, and emotional dysregulation, among others.

  • Somatic therapies help reduce symptoms related to psychological trauma.
  • Gradually, the patient is helped to regulate the emotions associated with their memories, thus minimizing their general suffering.
  • The somatic approach guides the patient to become aware of the physical sensations associated with the traumatic event.
  • It starts from the idea that the mind and body are linked. Therefore, encapsulated memories always leave their mark on the body.

Many people suffering from trauma also experience chronic pain. In these cases, somatic therapies are extremely useful.

Senior man receiving one of the best therapies to treat traumas
Trauma must be confronted. If these internal wounds aren’t addressed, the physical and mental impact is enormous.

Find the trauma therapy that best suits you

As you can see, there are various therapeutic options for treating trauma. Those focused on symptoms (such as somatic and trauma relief) won’t be useful if you show evidence of other comorbidities. For instance, trauma frequently generates mood disorders. In these instances, the cognitive-behavioral approach is useful.

To obtain a proper diagnosis, it’s essential to consult a specialized professional. You must never put aside or repress your pain and shouldn’t ever behave as if it had never happened. Trauma is like an ink stain. It blurs everything: your social life, work life, and even your health.

There are effective tools to close these wounds, regain control of your life, and even give you hope for the future. What happened in the past can be healed thanks to the therapies described here. You shouldn’t ever hesitate to ask for help.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Cicione, R.M., Fontaine, L.A., y Williams, C.N. (2002). Trauma Relief Unlimited: un estudio de resultados de un nuevo método de tratamiento. Trauma y Pérdida: Investigación e Intervenciones, 2(2), 25-33.
  • Dalvie, S., & Daskalakis, N. P. (2021). The Biological Effects of Trauma. Complex psychiatry7(1-2), 16–18.
  • Resick, P. A., Nishith, P., Weaver, T. L., Astin, M. C., & Feuer, C. A. (2002). A comparison of cognitive-processing therapy with prolonged exposure and a waiting condition for the treatment of chronic posttraumatic stress disorder in female rape victims. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology70(4), 867–879.
  • Shapiro, F (1989). Efficacy of the eye movement desensitization procedure in the treatment of traumatic memories. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 2(2), 199–223.
  • Thomas, F. C., Loskot, T., Mutschler, C., Burdo, J., Lagdamen, J., Sijercic, I., Lane, J. E. M., Liebman, R. E., Finley, E. P., Monson, C. M., & Wiltsey-Stirman, S. (2023). Initiating Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) in Community Settings: A Qualitative Investigation of Therapist Decision-Making. Administration and policy in mental health50(1), 137–150.
  • Valiente-Gómez, A., Moreno-Alcázar, A., Treen, D., Cedrón, C., Colom, F., Pérez, V., & Amann, B. L. (2017). EMDR beyond PTSD: A Systematic Literature Review. Frontiers in psychology8, 1668.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.