3 Essential Things to Look for in a Trauma Therapist
Congratulations – you’ve made the courageous decision to embark on the journey ahead.
You’re ready to face the traumatic experiences from your past that have been holding you back in life. You are prepared to free yourself of the pain you’ve been carrying inside for so long. You’re tired of the:
- Constant hypervigilance
- The feeling of danger lurking around every corner
- Toxic shame and feelings of inadequacy that weigh you down
- Unstable relationships and pattern of attracting unhealthy partners
- Or the overdeveloped sense of responsibility you have for taking care of others. You want to thrive instead of only survive
Great. So how do you find the right trauma therapist who can help?
If you’re lucky, you may have a good friend who can provide a personal referral. There may be a mental health professional in the family who can guide you in the right direction. But the process can be more challenging for those who don’t have any of these resources.
I recently went on Psychology Today to look through therapists’ pages in the nearby city of Boca Raton. It is an affluent, highly-populated suburb of Palm Beach County, Florida (our practice is in the next town over in Delray Beach). I felt amazed by the seemingly-endless number of pages of therapists. All had different backgrounds, educations, personality styles, and areas of expertise. On the one hand, I was comforted to have confirmation that our local area is rich with mental health resources available to support those in need. On the other, I couldn’t help but wonder how daunting it would be for someone looking at these to choose a therapist to work with. This article will describe the various aspects and characteristics that an ideal trauma therapist will have.
1. Someone who can Provide a Healing Relationship
The most important aspect of trauma recovery is a sense of safety and trust in your therapist. What may surprise some is that most trauma is interpersonal. It is often reflective of past experiences of betrayal and hurt within the scope of a relationship (often family). Because of this, the therapeutic relationship is very crucial to healing. After all, who would be willing to “go there” to those dark, scary places without a true sense of comfort and trust? Especially in a population that has been burned so often by others. A trauma therapist could be trained in all the latest, greatest methods of resolving trauma. But, if you’re uncomfortable talking with them, none of that other stuff matters.
There are many ways to determine if a therapist you’re interested in can provide that sense of safety and trust you’ll need.
Some may benefit from reading a person’s therapy profile or website. Afterward, they can check if they can see themselves talking to this person in a vulnerable way. Many will need to know that the therapist can handle their own emotions in listening to their clients’ horrific stories. Some may need a trauma therapist with a similar cultural or racial background. Others may need the office space to be warm, inviting, and invoke a natural calm and positive energy. Many therapists offer a free 15 or 20-minute consultation as well. This is a great way to have a conversation and see if their personality or style is the right fit for you. Take advantage of this and see if you can feel a sense of care, connection, and competence from the provider.
Your trauma therapist will need healthy boundaries and the willingness to put you in charge of your recovery journey. The trauma therapist’s role is to provide the right avenue for healing. But, in the end, they cannot save you (this is a very common fantasy). Trauma often robs a person of their agency and power. As a result, client empowerment is critical. A good trauma therapist will truly understand this.
2. A Competent Trauma Therapist (an Expert)
There are many passionate, highly-competent trauma counselors to help you on your journey! A great place to start is to find someone who emphasizes and writes much about their focus on treating trauma. For example, their entire website and stream of blog articles may specifically focus on trauma and PTSD. If so, it is a good sign that this person is passionate about the subject. As a result, they have likely devoted significant personal and professional resources to become competent in this field.
Nevertheless, you may find many therapists’ websites and Psychology Today profiles describing themselves as specializing in this realm. But, of course, some will, unfortunately, be lacking. When working with vulnerable, traumatized populations, I believe it is a moral and ethical imperative to have adequate training and expertise in this subject. As mentioned, personal testimonials and referrals are great, as are recommendations from trusted professional sources. And it is critical that your therapist is trained in the right psychotherapeutic approach to help you.
There are many therapies out there:
It’s like the proverbial alphabet soup of psychotherapy. Some may have great-sounding names. But, it is important to find someone who practices a trauma therapy modality that is “evidence-based”. The National Center for PTSD within the Veterans Administration lists three psychotherapies with the most research support. These include Prolonged Exposure (PE), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). In our practice specializing in trauma treatment, every clinician is trained in EMDR. This is a very powerful approach to healing. Bessel Van der Kolk, one of the leading researchers of trauma and PTSD, advocates for the use of EMDR in the best-selling book, The Body Keeps the Score. He describes it as focusing “not only on regulating the intense memories activated by trauma but also on restoring a sense of agency, engagement, and commitment through ownership of body and mind.”
In addition, your trauma therapist needs to be an expert on how trauma impacts a person.
We used to think that trauma was psychological. But, we now realize it is very neurobiological. We also realize so many changes happen in the body’s brain, endocrine, and nervous systems. A trauma therapist with this knowledge can educate you and help normalize your experiences as the predictable physiological and behavioral responses that occur following an overwhelming event. They can remove the shame for how you’ve coped and assist you in regaining control of your mind and body.
An expert trauma therapist must understand all the different aspects of an effective treatment plan.
This includes pacing, resourcing, and safety concerns, to name a few. The pace at which the trauma therapist will guide you in the work is very important. Going too slow ends up avoiding and prolonging the necessary healing. It wastes time and previous financial resources. But, going too fast runs the risk of being too overwhelming and destabilizing.
Resourcing is important, as the therapist must evaluate what internal and external resources are present. Reviewing these resources, they can better understand what needs to be strengthened in preparation for reprocessing traumatic memories. Substance use, self-harm, and suicidal ideations also consider in planning treatment. I like to say, “it’s hard to clean a room without kicking up some dust”. And in that regard, it’s hard to address past trauma without creating some discomfort. So, an effective trauma therapist will consider this to keep the client comfortable and safe.
3. A Trauma Therapist who is the Right Fit in Many Ways
Finding someone with the personality and style that works well for you is vital. But, make sure to consider some other factors. These may include gender, fee, the possibility for in-person or virtual sessions, and scheduling availability (i.e., how busy they are).
Therapists vary greatly in personality and approach. Some like the blunt, direct feedback of someone who can hold them accountable. They appreciate the fact their therapist doesn’t beat around the bush when discussing difficult topics. Others prefer the approachability of someone who is more gentle and nurturing in their demeanor. As long as the therapist is an expert in treating trauma as discussed above, there is no right or wrong when it comes to this. It is completely based on personal preference.
I often hear the incorrect assumption that, for example, a female sexual assault survivor would prefer to work with a female therapist over a male. This may very well be true for many. But, for others, it may not be true. Find someone who you feel you can trust, connect, and be vulnerable with. As a male therapist, I’ve had the honor of providing female clients with a positive, healthy, and reparative experience (in a lifetime of crappy experiences with men). Regarding gender, follow your instincts on who you’d feel the most comfortable with. There are qualified trauma therapists of all genders out there to help you!
Finances are important. And, most trauma survivors seeking treatment have finite resources at their disposal.
So, make sure to find someone whose fee makes sense for your budget. Treatment takes time with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (or “complex trauma” or C-PTSD). In many cases, the term “slow is fast” applies. Make sure you’re not paying more than you can afford and then find yourself in a situation where you’re pushing yourself faster than you can handle. If so, or you end up running out of resources and have to pause therapy. If you have insurance, you may find someone in-network with your plan who is very qualified in helping you. Also, if you have out-of-network benefits with your insurance such as with a PPO, you’ll likely be able to work with any provider. This will open up your options a great deal.
When the pandemic hit almost every therapist in the world started practicing online. While many have returned to the office, some have not. When addressing trauma in therapy, many clients prefer to be in person with their therapist. Doing so makes them feel more engaged, focused, and connected. They may like going to an office where they can delve into the dark aspects of their past. Then, they can compartmentalize things (in a healthy way) and then return to the safety and sanctity of their homes. But, other clients may prefer to be in their own homes’ comfort while discussing the horrors they once experienced. Sitting in an office with someone may be too activating for those with significant attachment trauma. Choose what works for you.
Finally, find a therapist who has the availability to meet your scheduling needs. The foremost expert in the world of trauma therapy can’t help you if your respective availabilities don’t align. There are so many therapy practices busy these days. With this fact, the last thing you want is to have trouble negotiating times to meet and maybe have to skip weeks when things don’t work out for whatever reason.
There are many highly-qualified trauma therapists out there who can help you resolve your traumatic experiences. Hopefully, this article helped find someone who can provide a healing relationship, adequate training, skill, and expertise and is just the right fit. Best of luck in your journey ahead.
Begin Working with a Trauma Therapist Trauma Therapy in Palm Beach County, FL
Mangrove Therapy Group is a psychotherapy practice in Delray Beach, Florida that specializes in treating trauma and addiction. We chose the mangrove tree to represent our practice because of the focus on its roots, and how effective therapy requires getting at the root of the client’s issues. This is truly the case in treating trauma as the original traumatic memories often need to be targeted and reprocessed. We intend always to treat the whole person, not only the current issue. We believe in constantly probing beneath the surface to achieve lasting change.
- Contact Mangrove Therapy Group to schedule an appointment or get a free consultation
- Learn more about our team, and our view on what is considered “trauma”
- Find out how we approach trauma therapy
Other Services Offered with Mangrove Therapy Group
Trauma therapy isn’t the only service offered at our Delray Beach, FL-based therapy practice. Read more about other conditions we treat including addictions (substance use disorders as well as process addictions), low self-esteem, grief and loss, anger management, and “failure to launch” syndrome. We also practice various approaches, including EMDR, CBT, and DBT. Feel free to visit our blog or FAQ page to learn more today!