How I Discovered The Effectiveness Of Trauma Therapy
One morning in August 2016 I was on my way to school (I was a teacher at the time). It was the second day of the school year and I was excited. I drove the same route that I had the last two years. I would get frustrated at the number of lights that would stop me on the way there. As I was sitting at one of these annoying lights, I glanced at my rearview mirror. I froze. My whole body tightened up. I watched as a silver Cadillac came barreling into the rear end of my car. Somehow, I ended up not hitting the car in front of me. I found out later that when I had tightened my body, my foot pressed hard on the brakes.
I felt like my mind went into autopilot as I did a mental scan of my body then called 911. After I finished that call, I called my boyfriend to let him know what happened. When I hung up with him, I started crying. Autopilot turned off. My body hurt all over and I felt psychologically rocked.
When the paramedics arrived, they told me I was likely fine. I would need to go to the hospital to get checked out just in case. I had some minor scrapes and bruises. Scans and x-rays came back negative. I went home and was put on bed rest for a few days.
But I looked fine
A few days later, it was time to go back to school. Everything was fine as I got ready. I went to grab my keys and stopped. I couldn’t move. The fear and panic that rose in my body took over. I was terrified to get into a car. My boyfriend offered to give me a ride but I couldn’t walk out the door. I called work and let them know I wouldn’t be coming in.
This went on for a few days. Every morning I would wake up and go through the same routine but could not get any further out the door. My brother and dad tried to help. They would come in the mornings to try and take me but I just couldn’t leave the house. Multiple times they commented on how “It was just a little fender bender” and “The hospital said you were fine”. These comments just buried me more. I kept thinking, “They are right, I’m fine. I am actually very lucky. I walked out of this with some bumps and bruises. What’s wrong with me?”
I began to realize that for me, this car accident was not about external injuries. This accident was about what it did to me psychologically. The physical pain was gone. No one could see the bruises or scrapes anymore and I couldn’t feel them. But the psychological injuries were very real. Just because there are no marks, doesn’t mean the pain isn’t there.
I knew I needed support in dealing with the psychological toll of my car accident. When I met with my counselor, not only did she help me heal from the emotional impact of the accident, but she altered the course of my professional life, giving me the desire to become a therapist myself.
She taught me calming strategies I could use when I was feeling overwhelmed and anxious and helped me to think differently about my experience. The psychological terms for what we did in our work together are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). (read below for details).
After a few therapy sessions, I no longer needed to practice my calming strategies every time I got into the car. Now, the accident rarely comes to mind, but if it does, I am able to logically think it through first and not emotionally react. I now see the accident as a moment in my life, not a long-lasting trauma.
Evidenced-Based Treatments For Trauma Include:
This intervention was designed to treat PTSD and has been effective in other disorders as well. The therapist uses bilateral stimulation by tactile, auditory, or visual input to help the client process the traumatic memory in a healthier way.
Exposure and response prevention therapy:
This intervention exposes the client to the memory and triggers in a safe place. The therapist helps the client with any distress that may arise. Exposure therapy and EMDR can help a client become desensitized to the memory.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT):
This type of therapy focuses on the client’s thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. The goal is to alter a person’s unhelpful thinking to lead to healthy behaviors and improve the client’s emotion regulations.
Tips To Cope- What You Can Do Now
Surround Yourself With Support
We can be very hard on ourselves. Surround yourself with people who will lift you up and help you move forward.
Ask for help
I know it is difficult to ask for help, or maybe you don’t realize you need it. But if you are aware that something isn’t right, ask for help. The sooner you ask for help, the sooner the healing process can begin.
Grounding or Mindfulness
I can’t express how helpful it was for me to bring myself back into the present moment through mindfulness techniques. This involves a moment-by-moment awareness of your current thoughts, bodily sensations, and feelings. There is an abundance of research showing that mindfulness reduces negative emotions and benefits overall physical and mental well-being. The more I practiced, the less my anxiety became and the easier it was to become present and aware.
Take a breath
If you notice your breathing is quick and shallow, pause and take a few deep breaths. This helps the body relax. Oftentimes a person doesn’t realize that they are tensing their muscles. Deep breaths can help to move you out of those “fight or flight” impulses and into a more relaxed and rational state.
Sometimes you don’t want to talk to people in your immediate circle, or maybe you feel that they don’t understand. Group therapy will help you find coping strategies and skills as well as get support from people who are going through similar emotions.
Jill Johnson, MA, helps teens and adults overcome barriers caused by depression, anxiety, and trauma. Specialties include: Adult issues, anxiety, depression, mood disorders, grief and trauma, and supporting family members impacted by addiction. To Schedule with Jill, contact Elevate Counseling.