How to Talk about Trauma in Therapy: Three Expert Tips

Sep 9, 2021

When you have spent years trying to block out intense and painful experiences, talking openly about them doesn’t come easily. For trauma survivors, this can make being candid in therapy feel very challenging. They may even resist going to therapy as they don’t know how they might react to being invited to discuss trauma’s direct and indirect impact on them. Learning how to benefit most from trauma therapy can come from a few expert tips on how to prepare.

Unresolved trauma can have an effect on a person’s health and well-being for decades. It can be a factor in their substance use disorder, too. Trauma therapy is a recommended way to address the intense and painful experiences of the past. It may consist of different types of therapeutic approaches.

Talking openly about what caused the trauma can be very difficult for survivors in treatment. It’s helpful to learn how to be okay with being uncomfortable, acknowledge your suffering from trauma has been real, and focus on choosing words that represent how you feel about past abuse, neglect, or other traumatic events.

Why is Trauma Therapy so Hard?

Trauma is a life-altering event. It can make you relive an experience over and over years later. It can bring back the original feelings of panic and fear. Its impact on you can show up by surprise when you’re in the middle of enjoying a safe and fun activity.

What makes trauma therapy feel hard is the belief that you need to directly address the traumatic experience. In facing it head-on, as you assume, you’re expected to be able to work through it and move on from it.

But, the purpose of trauma therapy isn’t to make you relive the painful experience. Trauma therapy is designed to help you reframe an intense experience so it no longer has overwhelming power over you.

Three Tips on How to Talk about Trauma in Therapy

  1. Learn how to be okay with being uncomfortable.

The focus of trauma therapy isn’t to make it easy to talk about traumatic events. It’s about helping you cope with your reactions to them. One way to begin to share your feelings about painful events is to acknowledge that no one expects you to be at ease. You don’t always have to make sense. It doesn’t have to flow out of you. The struggle to share is perfectly natural.

Being okay with pausing, searching for the right word, and having it come out messy are all reasonable expectations to set for yourself. You’re not delivering a movie monologue. It’s okay to be raw and real; you’re unrehearsed.

  1. Acknowledge your suffering has been real.

If you haven’t shared the traumatic experiences with anyone before, it can take some time to make them feel real to yourself. Being honest with yourself and your trauma therapist is an essential part of facing the past in a new way. You may need help finding approaches to make the painful experience less abstract and more tangible.

It could come from bringing in a journal where you’ve documented a recent moment when you were overwhelmed by the trauma. It could be a small object that provides comfort when you’re feeling some of the symptoms of trauma. A tangible object can give you something to focus on that’s outside of yourself in early sessions when opening up feels more challenging.

  1. Connect your feelings to words or objects.

This is open territory to choose words that represent your feelings when you’re talking about your trauma. The words don’t need to come in complete sentences either. They can be standalone words that represent a specific feeling. They can be words with a tangible representation in an object with a specific shape, color, and function.

An object can be something from the environment of your traumatic experience or something that you associate with that experience. These objects can be helpful for you to focus on something visual when describing your memories or feelings about the trauma.

These tips can be a great way to begin talking about trauma in therapy sessions so you can begin the process of healing and moving forward in a healthy way.

Benefits of Therapy for Trauma

Trauma therapy is designed to provide numerous benefits for a person who’s been living with any type of trauma from the recent or distant past. It could involve neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological and emotional abuse, homelessness, natural disasters, or some other significantly painful event.

Reducing the symptoms associated with the trauma—anxiety, depression, panic attacks, chronic health conditions, and more—is one of the benefits of trauma therapy. Eliminating or managing these symptoms can make functioning daily easier. Another benefit is changing the perception you have of the trauma and putting it in terms of the present-day that you control rather than an out-of-reach part of your past.

The benefits related to substance use can be significant, too. For people whose drug and alcohol use has been connected to unresolved trauma, this kind of therapy can help them learn the skills to stay in recovery and work on their sober goals. Someone with an SUD who has relapsed numerous times in the past may discover trauma therapy is what helps with their sobriety in ways a program focused only on ending substance use couldn’t.

Another benefit of trauma therapy is uncovering the existence of hereditary trauma. Looking at your family’s past, you may find a link of your own trauma to that of a parent, grandparent, and other ancestors. This kind of trauma can affect the immune system.

It might show up in a person through symptoms like high anxiety, hypervigilance, and a sense that the future is limited. Even a fight or flight response may be extra sensitive.

Origins Recovery & Counseling is a new program in Dallas, Texas, made available by a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond.

Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety.

For information on our programs, call us today: 866-671-4124.



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