New trauma treatments are so important because trauma can affect nearly anyone. It does not distinguish on the basis of age, race, education, socioeconomic status, or sex.1 In fact, this unpredictability is one of the principal elements of trauma that make it so powerful. Trauma invades a person’s life and violates his or her fundamental sense of security and safety. Thankfully, the majority of people who experience traumatic events do not develop acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or other trauma-related disorders. But for those who do, new trauma treatments are available.
Treatment Program: Ryan Poling, MA, writes on behalf of Life Center of Galax, a treatment center located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia that provides comprehensive residential and outpatient care for substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders.
Approximately 9 million people nationwide have been diagnosed with PTSD, and nearly 50 percent of these people are receiving PTSD treatment, according to data from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Unfortunately, many people wrestle with trauma disorders and addictions or other challenges that can make healing all the more difficult.
Although it is only within the last half-century or so that psychological science has begun to understand PTSD and other trauma-related disorders, there are a number of unique and effective approaches to treating people who are struggling with the aftershocks of trauma. Some of these relatively new trauma treatments are described below.
New Trauma Treatment: TFCBT, Primarily For Children
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TFCBT) is a new trauma treatment generally used with children who experienced a traumatic event. TFCBT follows a set arc of interventions across trauma treatment. TFCBT practitioners use the acronym, PRACTICE, to describe the steps of treatment, and some of these steps include relaxation training, creating a trauma narrative, and in vivo desensitization (desensitizing the whole person, mind and body, to the trauma).
The aim of this new trauma treatment is to teach relaxation strategies and then slowly help the anxious child discuss small pieces of the trauma. As the child discusses the trauma, he or she is guided in the use of relaxation techniques to help reduce his or her racing heart, anxiety, sweating, or other “fight-or-flight” symptoms.
These interventions are designed to help a child separate the memory of the traumatic event from his or her physiological reactions to the event so that he or she no longer relives the experience whenever it’s remembered.
New Trauma Treatment: Prolonged Exposure Therapy and Flooding
When boiled down to their basic components, exposure therapy for PTSD essentially prove the old adage that the best way to overcome a fear is to face it directly. That being said, exposure therapies are conducted in a carefully controlled environment by highly trained mental health experts and are specially designed to avoid further traumatizing people seeking treatment.
The basic idea behind exposure therapy is that, by focusing on a traumatic event for a long enough period of time, a person’s body will eventually exhaust itself as it cannot sustain such a high level of activation for prolonged periods. Thus a person habituates to, or becomes used to, thinking about the traumatic event.
This approach is rarely used with children, as it requires more emotional reserve than a child typically has. It is, however, commonly used with combat veterans at Veterans’ Administration hospitals.
New Trauma Treatment: PTSD Prevention in Virtual Reality
Some of the most exciting research on new trauma treatments is focused not on treatment, but on prevention. Interventions such as the award-winning STRIVE project from the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California focus on building stress resilience as a part of combat training.
The STRIVE project uses virtual reality technology to replicate conditions that soldiers may face overseas and helps them develop instinctive coping strategies that are designed to prevent the incidence of PTSD. Broken up into different training modules, STRIVE teaches soldiers about their bodies’ reactions to stress, trains them in strategies for stress reduction, and then places them in realistic simulations to help them practice the stress-reduction skills they are learning.
Trauma and trauma-related disorders are terrible and tragic effects of living in an unpredictable world, but mental health experts are working hard to develop new trauma treatments that can help people heal from PTSD, acute stress disorder, comorbid substance use disorders, and the other painful and disruptive effects of a traumatic experience.
1Although a traumatic experience can happen to anyone, different groups of people are more likely to develop trauma-related disorders, such as PTSD, in response to a traumatic event.