Over the past few decades of medical innovation and advancement, medications have reshaped the way that many doctors treat their patients. While certain medications have proved to be advantageous in the treatment and management of trauma related mental health disorders, they merely alleviate the symptoms without treating the underlying cause. In order for measurable progress to be made, the right kinds of therapy need to be working in unison with these medications.
Trauma-informed psychotherapy has the potential to be both far more effective and far less damaging than relying on chemical treatments that treat chemical imbalances and abnormalities present in individuals who have experienced trauma.
Medications may be used as a first step across the course of a trauma treatment plan, but relying on these medications as a crutch does little to nothing to resolve the pathology of the trauma itself. A new thought pattern needs to develop in order for the patient to fully recover, and this pattern is born of relationships. Trauma-informed psychotherapy aims to assist in the facilitation of these relationships that lead to better outcomes for affected patients on both scientific and holistic levels.
Trauma’s Profound Effects
People with specific kinds of trauma are subject to neurobiological events called “flashbacks”. These flashbacks are essentially vivid recollections of the point of trauma, creating a recursive loop of what may feel like cyclical and repetitive revictimization for the trauma patient.
These flashbacks come as an unintended side effect of the brain’s “fight or flight” response. When faced with a traumatic or significantly impactful situation, the brain works differently. The frontal lobe engages in a so called “survival mode”, where the individual experiencing the trauma can only focus on living through it, rather than combating it. This prevents the trauma from becoming just a bad memory narrative – pieces of it may be lost, and the memory event never comes to a proper resolution.
Certain triggers, whether they’re visual or auditory cues, can send the brain back into that traumatic response. The body re-enters survival mode. This is the essence of “shell shock”, a common post-traumatic stress response found in military servicepeople who may enter this survival mode as a result of hearing a loud sound that may mimic gunfire or explosives.
In order for a patient to be fully liberated from the flashback loop of trauma, associations need to be broken between the survival mode response and the stimuli that cause the response.
What Early Life Relationships Mean For Trauma Patients
Trauma is a spectrum. Significant trauma typically comes as a result of overwhelming fear and the inability to integrate that fear into a proper memory and reconcile events. Minor traumas typically stem from the influence of trusted individuals, such as caregivers, guardians, intimate partners, family members, or parents, creating emotional wounds within an individual.
No matter the trauma, one of the hallmarks of its effects is that trust and stable relationships become difficult for patients to grow and learn from. Emotional isolation removes healthy relationships from a trauma patient’s life, and may impact the ability to trust himself or herself as they struggle to successfully cope with their trauma.
In early childhood, the caregiver of an individual (whomever that may be) is tasked with assisting the child with forming proper emotional bonds with people. Those who do not have an established foundation for the formation of these bonds often develop trouble with the entire spectrum of intimacy, whether it be specific to courtship, spousal relationships, platonic friendships, or an understanding of authority.
Strong caregiver-young person relationships establish the foundation necessary for trust and the development of healthy coping mechanisms. When these relationships are absent, individuals living with traumas of any magnitude are less likely to be able to reconcile these traumas on their own.
The Importance Of Healthy Relationships For Trauma Patients
The “love cure”, an idea envisioned and strongly propagated by Sigmund Freud and his successors from a similar school of thought, aims to use trauma-informed psychotherapy to improve the bonding ability and interpersonal skills of individuals coping with trauma.
A secure exchange of emotions re-establishes an individual’s ability to outwardly cope with trauma, rather than internalizing and reliving problematic unresolved memories. This means that a therapist needs to be just as invested in the patient as the patient is in the therapist. The two-way exchange creates the intimacy necessary for the growth and recovery of the patient through compassion and openness.
Though mutual, this relationship is best delivered in a one-sided manner. The mental healthcare provider need not benefit from it – the effects are to be focused solely on the patient. This is a giving relationship established in none other than love – a selfless therapist welcoming a trauma patient with open arms and no judgement.
Love Finds A Way
Patients who improve their understanding of love and ability to develop trust will see successful outcomes throughout their life. Although therapy is far from the only method in which an individual can learn these skills, it’s an excellent starting point for individuals who have experienced trauma.