What is Trauma Counselling?
Updated: Nov 6
How Do Therapists Use it to Help People Who Have Suffered a Traumatic Event?
The term “trauma” seems to be everywhere these days. If you search Spotify or Apple Podcasts using “trauma” as your search term, there is an endless scroll of references. When using #trauma on TikTok, users can see this term has logged 25.2 billion views since TikTok launched in September 2017. Celebrities have also started joining in the conversation, with Justin Bieber referring to trauma in a GQ interview when describing his first year of marriage, and the term PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), a disorder that can develop from a traumatic experience, has quickly become a pop culture topic.
So, what is trauma? Let me start by saying that as psychotherapists, my team and I take trauma very seriously. Trauma is a mental health condition that can be triggered by experiences that threaten safety and can lead to emotional and psychological repercussions. Let’s explore together what trauma is and how trauma counselling can be a support.
What is trauma?
Trauma is often referenced in relation to PTSD. It is important, however, to distinguish between PTSD and trauma. Trauma, simply put, is a reaction to an event that has overwhelmed our body and system. This can be something that happened to you, seeing something happen to another person or even hearing about something that has happened to another person. These last two are known as vicarious trauma. A traumatic event is time-based. It is the thing that happened, while PTSD is a longer-term condition where one continues to have symptoms due to the event. Symptoms may include intrusive memories or nightmares, avoidance behaviours, and internal changes, such as changes in mood and how you see the world, as well as physical symptoms like hypervigilance and sleep issues. This is not a full, inclusive list or in-depth explanation of trauma or PTSD, but provides a basic awareness of trauma.
What is trauma counselling?
Trauma counselling is an umbrella term, and even harder to define, that refers to a therapeutic process (which in the therapy world are called interventions), which is facilitated in collaboration between a qualified therapist and their client. This work helps a client reframe their relationship with the event by creating a deeper understanding of the trauma and their relation to it. Doing this creates more space for self-compassion and self-empowerment as the client processes through the traumatic event.
Various treatment modalities can be used in trauma therapy to address each client's specific needs and symptoms. These evidence-based approaches have each shown effectiveness in clinical studies, and they're selected with the utmost care to maximize therapeutic outcomes.
The simple truth is that trauma counselling is individual to everyone and every therapist. I believe this is because we’re all different. Our lives and experiences affect how we work with each client. As such, this is another wonderful example of why it’s so important to meet and consult with more than one therapist before choosing whom to work with.
When a client comes to us for trauma counselling, their therapist will focus on building a solid therapeutic alliance that helps provide the building blocks of stability and safety in the therapeutic relationship. We also like to start psychoeducation around trauma; it's not the incident but how each individual’s nervous system and body responds to it. If they are overwhelmed or overloaded, that is what we call trauma. We’ll also talk about Big “T” Trauma and little “t” trauma as well as cumulative trauma. Self-compassion is also a cornerstone here here because many people feel their trauma isn't “big enough” or “bad enough” compared to what others might experience as trauma.
We also introduce distress tolerance skills so they can see, know and build their resilience to triggers from the outside world.
While this may seem structured, it is worth noting that we don’t always take a structured linear approach. We will always meet our clients where they are at and use a variety of therapeutic approaches and modalities that most importantly work and feel comfortable for the client when providing trauma counselling to a client. Here are some of them:
Brainspotting is a modality to neurobiologically locate, focus, process, and release traumatic experiences and symptoms that are typically out of reach of the conscious mind and its cognitive and language capacity.
Internal Family Systems (IFS)
The IFS model theorizes that there are parts of us, and they are often representations of memories, emotions, thoughts, behaviours and coping strategies. IFS provides an in-depth understanding of why the parts behave the way they do and how to heal them.
Narrative Therapy helps clients reconstruct their personal narratives, giving them a renewed perspective on their trauma. It shifts the focus from being a victim to becoming the author of their life story.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR involves the use of guided eye movements to help process traumatic memories. It’s designed to change how these memories are stored in the brain, thereby reducing their long-term impact.
Somatic Experiencing targets the physical symptoms of trauma. This modality aims to release stored tension and foster a sense of control by focusing on bodily sensations.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
DBT combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness strategies. It's especially effective for individuals with emotional regulation issues or borderline personality disorder, often comorbid with trauma and wonderful for building distress tolerance and resiliency
By offering various treatment modalities, trauma counselling can be highly tailored to meet each client's needs. The goal is not just symptom relief but long-term emotional and psychological well-being.
Who should seek trauma counselling?
While the term 'trauma' often conjures up images of war zones or natural disasters, trauma counselling serves a much broader clientele. It is equally essential for individuals experiencing various life disturbances, such as domestic abuse, car accidents, or occupational hazards like those encountered by first responders and healthcare workers. Increasingly, trauma counselling is also seen as beneficial for youth and adults affected by community violence, bullying, or sexual harassment. The field even extends to those experiencing vicarious or secondary traumatic stress, which often affects caregivers, social workers, and legal professionals exposed to the trauma of others. What we’d like to stress is that no one trauma is more or less important. This is your lived experience and who are we to say what is or is not a trauma for you.
If you find yourself grappling with emotional disturbances stemming from distressing life events, whether they're large-scale calamities or deeply personal hardships, trauma counselling offers a structured pathway toward emotional recovery and improved mentalhealth.
What to expect in a trauma counselling session
From initial assessments to goal-setting, building a therapeutic alliance, active treatment, homework, and progress evaluation, the client is actively involved in their trauma resilience and recovery process.
A standard trauma counselling session lasts 50 minutes, although some specialized treatments may extend longer.
Duration of treatment
The duration of trauma counselling varies significantly depending on the severity of symptoms and the client's specific needs and the pace they are comfortable working at. However, some clients may require more extended treatment, especially when dealing with complex trauma or co-morbid conditions.
Frequency of sessions
Most often, sessions are conducted weekly or bi-weekly, but this can vary based on the treatment plan. In some cases, particularly during the early stages or crisis periods, sessions may be more frequent.
Flexibility in timing
Many therapists offer flexible scheduling, including evening or weekend appointments, to accommodate work and personal commitments. Telehealth options are also increasingly available, providing greater convenience.
The therapy must be individualized to minimize the risk of re-traumatization. My team and I are committed to offering evidence-based treatments tailored to each client’s needs. Trauma counselling aims to empower individuals with coping mechanisms and resilience, providing a pathway to improved mental health and quality of life.
Get in touch
If you or someone you know is struggling after a traumatic event in their life, reach out to me and my team via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or 647-296-9235, and we will work to help you find a therapist who can offer you trauma counselling. We offer a free 30-minute consultation via phone or video chat, and we’re available for online sessions using our secure online video platform across Ontario and in-person sessions in Toronto and select Ontario cities.
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