Online Therapy For Trauma & How It Can Help With Healing
Brindusa Vanta, MD, DHMHS
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Over 70% of people in the United States have experienced...
Over 70% of people in the United States have experienced a traumatic event. Trauma can emerge from all kinds of stressful experiences, including violence, childhood neglect, and car accidents. No matter what the cause is, traumatic events typically come with severe short-term and long-term effects. Mood swings, substance use, and mental health disorders are just a few of the trauma symptoms.(1)
Those struggling to cope with trauma may benefit from trauma-focused online therapy, available virtually. Here’s a more in-depth look at trauma and how online therapy can help encourage healing.
What Is Trauma?
Trauma is an emotional response to a shocking or distressing event. Common causes of trauma include the following:
Trauma can impact anyone, including children. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, approximately 25% of children will experience a traumatic event before age 16.(3) It’s common for trauma to negatively affect people long after the event occurred. About 4% of children eventually develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which involves frequent thoughts and flashbacks about the traumatic event.(4)
Therapists are Standing By to Treat Your Depression, Anxiety or Other Mental Health Needs
When trauma develops into PTSD, there are often serious effects on mental health. For example, up to 40% of PTSD patients also have alcohol use disorder.(5) About 50% of patients experience major depression.(6) Fortunately, early intervention can help reduce the risk of social and emotional effects, especially in children.(7)
To treat trauma, many people begin online trauma therapy. Put simply, trauma-focused therapy explores the link between a traumatic event and its physical, mental, and emotional repercussions. By working with a specialist, patients learn how to process emotions and cope with traumatic memories. The ultimate goal is to help patients deal with trauma in a healthy way and avoid becoming traumatized again.(8)
While therapy is often associated with in-person sessions, more and more people are relying on online therapy, which includes messaging, phone calls, and video chats. In 2021, almost 60% of therapy patients opted for online treatment.(9) Not only does online therapy allow patients to access mental health support from the comfort of their homes, but it can also reduce anxiety. One clinical trial revealed that online PTSD treatment helped lower distress in patients and was ultimately effective in improving mental wellness.(10)
Types of Trauma Treated With Online Therapy
When it comes to reducing trauma symptoms, therapy can help. In one study, up to 97% of participants no longer had PTSD after therapy.(11) The exact trauma treatment varies depending on the kind of trauma. Here are a few major types.
Childhood trauma is characterized by trauma that impacts children under the age of 18. Traumatic events experienced at this age are often referred to as “adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs). About 65% of children go through at least one ACE, while 40% have two or more. ACEs can be experiences that directly involve the child, such as abuse and neglect. They can also be events the child witnesses, such as domestic violence directed at a parent.(12) As mentioned above, some children will go on to develop PTSD.
Generational trauma is when the psychological impact of trauma is passed down through generations. Someone who has not received treatment for trauma might struggle to provide emotional support to others, including family members. For example, a parent struggling with trauma might ignore their children’s needs or minimize the trauma their child is experiencing. As a result, the child may mimic this behavior and eventually apply it to their own children.(13)
Vicarious trauma affects those who work with trauma survivors, such as therapists, medical personnel, social workers, and law enforcement. After being exposed to other people’s trauma, these individuals may experience a change in their own worldview. Sometimes, this change is positive. For example, they might become more appreciative of their own lives. In many cases, however, the change is negative. Those with vicarious trauma might develop new fears or feel apathetic about life.(14)
Complex trauma occurs when someone experiences multiple, often related, types of trauma and has difficulty dealing with them. In many cases, the trauma begins in childhood and involves important relationships, such as one’s parents. Those with complex trauma often experience a wide range of trauma related symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, and substance use disorder. Because symptoms and causes are broad, it’s common for complex trauma to be misdiagnosed.(15)
Religious trauma is caused when someone is physically, mentally, emotionally, or socially impacted by religion in a negative way. This could be due to religious beliefs or practices, specific events, or relationships with religious figures.(16) Despite being negatively affected by religion, many religious trauma survivors struggle to leave their faith because it’s so ingrained in their lives. Attempting to leave religious institutions may cause guilt, shame, frustration, and social isolation.(17)
Betrayal trauma is linked to the perpetrators of trauma. More specifically, it’s when an individual or institution that a person trusts or depends on betrays them. This could be a partner, a parent, a friend, or a trusted authority figure, such as a teacher. In some cases, the person affected may not be aware of the trauma. Examples of betrayal trauma include childhood abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and domestic violence.(18)
What are the Different Types of Trauma Therapy?
Whether trauma stems from childhood or is recent, it’s important to address it as promptly as possible. The sooner treatment is pursued, the sooner the patient can find relief. Below are some top mental health services for trauma.
Trauma Informed Therapy
During trauma-informed therapy, patients work with counselors to navigate and overcome the negative emotional and behavioral effects associated with past trauma. Counseling should consist of the following:
Realization: Counselors realize how strongly trauma has affected the patient.
Response: Counselors respond empathetically to build trust.
Avoiding re-traumatization: Counselors help ensure the patient doesn’t become traumatized again during therapy.
Ultimately, trauma informed therapy is a collaborative process. Rather than make demands, counselors provide assistance that encourages healing.(19)
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) is a treatment method designed for families. It combines three well-known types of therapy:
Cognitive therapy: Involves transforming negative thought patterns into positive ones
Behavioral therapy: Focuses on modifying negative or dangerous behaviors (such as anger or fear)
Family therapy: Has families work together to help reduce tension and support each other
Overall, TF-CBT has two main goals: to help children and adolescents navigate trauma and to give parents guidance on how to support their children.(20)
EMDR Trauma Therapy
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) aims to heal trauma by changing the way the brain stores traumatic memories. It’s common for the brain to suppress memories. Although the person tries to avoid the trauma, different triggers, like sights, smells, and sounds can bring those memories back.
During EMDR, patients are encouraged to think about and process their trauma while moving their eyes in certain directions. It’s still unclear exactly how EMDR works, but experts believe the process can help store memories in a healthier way, which helps overcome triggers.(21)
How Can Online Therapy for Trauma Help Someone Heal?
While therapy offers many benefits, it isn’t always easily accessible. Lack of transportation, limited time, and emotional fears are just a few potential barriers.(22) Fortunately, online therapy can help overcome these obstacles. Here are some top benefits of pursuing trauma-focused therapy:
Reduced isolation: Trauma survivors often feel alone. Speaking to a therapist can help reduce isolation.
Holistic care: In addition to healing the mind, many forms of trauma-focused therapy encourage physical healing through body movements.
Lower risk of re-traumatization: By helping patients work through fears, trauma specialists can help prevent survivors from experiencing future trauma-related harm.(23)
How to Sign Up for Online Trauma Therapy
Anyone with an internet connection can access online therapy resources. However, there are a few key factors to consider before signing up:
Whether it’s a good fit: Although online therapy is more convenient to access than in-person therapy, some people prefer having face-to-face connections. Thus, it’s up to each individual to decide whether online therapy is right for them. Some people may benefit from a hybrid solution in which they alternate between in-person and online sessions.
Security: It’s important that the online therapy provider is secure. When registering with a therapy website, make sure it’s HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliant. This means it has measures in place to protect health information.
Licensing: Mental health professionals should be licensed in their state as well as the patient’s state. During in-person sessions, therapists and patients share the same location. However, online therapy lets users connect to professionals across the country—as a result, users should always verify where the therapist is licensed.(24)
When done correctly, online therapy can be instrumental to healing. Those who have tried it report feeling “high levels of satisfaction.”(25) There are several online therapy providers that can help with trauma therapy, including BetterHelp, Cerebral, Calmerry, and Amwell.
Online Trauma Therapy FAQ
How to Process Trauma in Online Therapy
To heal, survivors must first process their trauma. This involves acknowledging those traumatic memories (which isn’t always easy). Here are a few tips for navigating this challenge:
Avoid isolation: For many survivors, the first instinct is to isolate oneself from external support (like loved ones or mental health counselors). However, isolation makes it harder to heal.
Engage in hobbies: Attending therapy can be nerve-wracking. Engaging in enjoyable hobbies may help patients relax beforehand.
Be patient: Online therapy is an ongoing process. It’s important not to get frustrated and to give oneself time to improve.(26)
How to Talk about Trauma in Online Therapy
Opening up about trauma is key to successful online therapy. Those who struggle with talking about trauma may benefit from these tips:
Embrace discomfort: Don’t worry about sounding comfortable or being eloquent. Instead, embrace discomfort—even if that means being emotional or stuttering.(27)
Acknowledge emotions: Accepting one’s emotions can be difficult, especially for children. However, embracing negative thoughts (like anger or fear) instead of ignoring them can make it easier to talk.(28)
Keep a journal: If verbal communication is difficult, journaling can help. Writing thoughts down is known to improve one’s mental, physical, and emotional health.(29)
Why Is Trauma Therapy So Hard?
Over 50% of Americans with a mental health condition don’t seek treatment.(30) A major reason is that therapy is often difficult. Those in trauma-focused therapy, for instance, may fear that emotional expression will lead to a loss of control. It’s also common for trauma survivors to be in denial about their emotions.(31) Ultimately, it’s hard for someone to discuss emotions they don’t want to feel in the first place.
Is Trauma the Same as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
While trauma and PTSD are often used interchangeably, the terms signify two different conditions. Trauma is one’s short-term and long-term emotional response to an event. PTSD is a specific mental health disorder that can occur in those with trauma.(32)
Those with PTSD experience serious, long-lasting symptoms, including nightmares, flashbacks, and emotional distress.(33) Another diagnostic criterion for PTSD is that these signs must last over a month. When PTSD symptoms resolve less than a month after a traumatic event, it’s known as an acute stress disorder.(34) Approximately 3.5% of adults experience PTSD every year.(35)
What is Cognitive Processing Therapy, and Can It Help With Trauma?
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy designed for trauma survivors. It teaches patients how to deal with negative thoughts connected to trauma and develop a more positive mindset.(36) Not only is CPT helpful to those who have experienced trauma, but it’s also effective in PTSD patients. In a study conducted on veterans, about 40% of patients no longer had PTSD after going through CPT.(37)
Whether it’s in-person or online, therapy like CPT can be an effective tool for overcoming trauma. Openly discussing emotions with a mental health professional can go a long way in improving negative feelings and ultimately finding peace.