Exposure to an emotionally distressing experience or event can lead to trauma. In professional terms, trauma is the word used to describe the emotional or behavioral state that results from such an event.
There are several principal approaches to therapy for trauma. These approaches or techniques are known respectively as exposure, cognitive restructuring and emotional and physical adjustment.
The exposure method uses direct confrontation with the event or events in question in order to stop the traumatic associations felt by the patient. These associations may occur through memories, situations, people or even objects that the patient connects to the traumatic experience. Trauma victims may wish simply to avoid confronting or coming into contact with the things that have caused the association. For example, a certain situation may lead to anxiety or fear and the victim may simply want to escape from that particular situation through avoidance. Exposure helps the victims directly approach or confront these negative associations, in order to enable the victim to realise that fear of a potential occurrence may not in fact lead to this occurrence becoming reality.
To achieve this, patients are often asked to write about the experience or event in question. This allows the victim to experience memories purely as memories rather than actual experiences.
“In vivo” exposure may involve actual physical to associations; for example, a victim of a terrorist attack may be asked to travel by public bus to a shopping mall. Repeated exposure helps the victim realise the frightening situation is no longer threatening.
In cases where the victim has translated the original into feelings of guilt or blame towards themselves, cognitive restructuring may be used in order to attempt to alter the victim’s perspective of the event. For example, a soldier who has lost a comrade in battle may feel guilty that the person in question lost their life as a result of the victim’s own actions. To combat these feelings, a discussion will take place between patient and therapist. During this discussion, the therapist will seek to examine the patient’s view of the events and through hypothesis, help the patient re-evaluate their perspective. The therapist may also encourage the patient to stop behavior and thoughts that reinforce negative translations of the event.
Emotional and Physical Adjustment
A therapist may also attempt to teach the victim certain methods that will assist the reduction of strain. Contracting and releasing certain muscle groups throughout the body may encourage relaxation, while slow breathing techniques may also prove beneficial. Breathing techniques are ideal for dealing with hyperventilation other such phenomena. Assertiveness without distancing other people may also be taught - this will allow the victim to successfully assert their thoughts and emotions. In addition, the victim may be shown methods indicating how to distract oneself from unwelcome thoughts.