• Healing the Self, Healing the Relationship: The Powerful Role of Individual Trauma Therapy

    Note – This article was a guest blog post that Brian Gong, Mangrove co-owner wrote for our AMAZING colleagues over at Coral Springs Counseling Center who do excellent couples work.


    Most people will agree that relationships are an extremely important, if not the most important, part of their lives. They often serve as the vibrant threads that make up the very fabric of our existence. In fact, research shows that social relationships, especially intimate relationships, have measurable effects on happiness. Yet the divorce rate in the United States is hovering around 50% for first marriages (and even higher rates for 2nd and 3rd marriages). Therefore, it’s no surprise that many people seek counseling when conflict and distress occur within their relationships.

    With so many forms of psychotherapy available, many people seek out the services of a trusted relationship counselor to help with their interpersonal challenges. I mean, it makes sense, right? If I had a problem with my foot, I would go see a podiatrist. So if I have a problem with my relationship, let’s go to couples counseling. What some don’t realize is that individual therapy can also be a powerful and effective option for improving your relationship. And, as a trauma therapist, what I’m referring to is focused, trauma-informed, one-on-one psychotherapy to address a person’s core issues.

    Now, I’m not saying that relationship counseling isn’t important. It most definitely is! There’s good reason why 70% of psychotherapists treat couples, and why couples therapy has seen some of the most growth over the past decade. Skilled relationship therapists can help partners navigate through conflict, improve communication, and develop a deeper sense of connection and intimacy. I refer clients all the time to couples counselors for those exact reasons.

    Nevertheless, individual therapy can either be a powerful adjunct to couples therapy, or even a robust standalone approach to improving relationships. Let’s explore how!

    How can Individual Therapy Help with my Relationship? 

    Reduce Trigger Points

    Harry has been married to his beautiful wife for several years. He would describe her as loving, hard-working, and a bit absent-minded. Overall, they have a great relationship however when she doesn’t text him back right away he gets filled with anxiety and anger. This also happens when she’s at work and loses track of time, forgetting to let him know that she’ll be late coming home. These feelings lead him to often lash out or get quiet and passive-aggressive. Harry goes to therapy and, with his skilled therapist, explores his childhood upbringing where his parents were always preoccupied with work, fighting with each other, or busy dealing with their own personal struggles. In therapy, he made some connections to how invisible and unimportant he felt growing up, and how these feelings get inadvertently triggered now in his current relationship. Rationally-speaking, he knows full well how important he is to his wife, yet in the moment her actions just feel so painful and personal. So, Harry asks his wife to be more mindful of her responsiveness (which she is of course happy and willing to work on). And he and his therapist put together an EMDR treatment plan to reprocess these memories from his past so that he is less triggered. 

    The word “Trauma” comes from the Greek origin for “wound”. We know that wounds leave painful areas sensitive to touch. Because of this, unresolved traumas from the past can leave behind a sensitivity and tenderness that can easily be poked, thus creating outsized feelings and reactions in the present. In the above example, Harry’s wounds were created as a young kid experiencing overwhelming pain and anger and not feeling seen or as a priority in his parents’ lives.

    Trauma-focused psychotherapy can provide the opportunity to heal and resolve these wounds so they are no longer painful, thus reducing trigger points and helping the client to respond more objectively. A skilled therapist will help their client identify triggers and their origins, teach coping skills to manage strong emotions, while collaboratively putting together a plan to reprocess these experiences to adaptive resolution.

    A woman appears stressed while crossing her arms and sitting across from a woman with a clipboard. This could represent the support a trauma therapist in Delray Beach, FL can offer. Learn more about trauma treatment in Palm Beach County, FL and how a therapist in Delray Beach, FL and assist you today.

    Improve Emotional Regulation

    Meredith has always struggled with managing strong waves of fluctuating emotions. She feels like she is on a tiny boat in a violent sea, at the mercy of the powerful waves and always trying to just stay afloat. In her attempts to feel okay and manage these intense feelings, she often self-medicates with alcohol, food, and occasionally with illicit substances. While this works in the short-term, if often leads to more problems and even more emotional instability and problems with her partner. 

    If you’ve ever struggled with an emotional dysregulation issue, you know how debilitating it can be and how awful it can feel. Waves of anger, pain, depression, anxiety… can all lead to an overwhelming sense of inner turmoil and, in turn, volatile and fluctuating relationships. It’s common to vacillate between feeling too much and feeling empty and numb. These experiences often have roots in developmental trauma (i.e., trauma and neglect experienced in childhood).

    In addition, some of the maladaptive ways we try to cope with overpowering emotion can themselves interfere with relationships. These can include substances, food, sex or pornography, gambling, technology, work, you name it. There is a strong correlation between these compulsive behaviors and unresolved trauma. As such, addressing these issues in therapy can be really important toward creating the inner calm and groundedness one needs to feel okay and stable in one’s relationship.

    Be More Present and Emotionally Available

    Do you ever feel detached from your body or emotions? Do you have a hard time being in the moment and find yourself either trying to distract or numb and shut-down? Unresolved trauma from the past can lead to what we call “dissociation” which is the brain’s way of putting some distance from the distress and pain of the present. The word comes from the Latin root meaning “to sever”. When dissociating, we are essentially severing from the present moment because, in a way, it just feels too uncomfortable. Typically, the severity of dissociation is based on a number of factors including age, duration, and severity. The younger you were when experiencing trauma, the worse the trauma was, and the longer you had to endure it, the greater the chance you may have dissociative experiences.

    Some people experience enough hardship growing up that they unconsciously “turn off” their emotions as a survival strategy. This makes being vulnerable and emotionally available, core components partners often need for intimacy and connection, extremely difficult. With a skilled therapist, you can be taught how to feel your feelings, become aware of your body, and be present and vulnerable (in a good way) in your relationships.

    A couple holding coffee cups smile while sitting across a table from one another. This could symbolize the benefits on relationships from working with a trauma therapist in Delray Beach, FL. Search for a trauma treatment in Palm Beach County, FL by contacting a therapist in Palm Beach County, FL today.

    Improve Communication

    Rebecca has a hard time asking for what she needs or expressing how she feels. When she gets upset, she wants to say something but often struggles, causing her to build up resentments toward herself and her boyfriend. Sometimes she is able to express herself (usually when she is really mad), but then feels really guilty and regretful afterward. 

    Sometimes, learning communication skills isn’t sufficient for resolving issues with communication in a relationship. One would think that if there are communication issues, let’s go learn how to communicate better and all will be okay! Yes, communication skill-building is absolutely critical and fundamental for being an effective partner in a healthy relationship. However, for some, it’s less about knowing what to say, and more about the emotional difficulties in getting out the words and feeling worthy of saying them.

    In therapy, Rebecca realized that she grew up in an environment where her needs weren’t prioritized and she would get yelled at and guilted for expressing herself, thus causing her to avoid confrontation while feeling overly responsible for other people’s emotions. She and her therapist put together a trauma treatment plan designed to address these non-nurturing memories from her childhood and reduce the negative feelings she gets when she is assertive. 

    Increase Trust and Vulnerability

    We discussed earlier about how trauma is like a wound, often leaving a painful area that is sensitive to touch. Sometimes this comes in the form of betrayal. This could be in the form of your partner’s affair or criticisms. Or from a parent, who is inherently tasked with the job of protecting you, committing neglect and abuses instead. As a result, many develop deep difficulties with trust, and they keep their defenses up as a way to protect themselves from harm.

    When this happens, it’s easier said than done to “just take a risk”! I mean, how many people know they are safe with their partners, but for some reason feel like hurt and pain are right around the corner if they let themselves be vulnerable. Working with a therapist to address past betrayals, abandonments, and violations of trust is often necessary to truly feel safe enough to take healthy relationship risks.

    A close up of a couple holding hands. This could represent the support that trauma therapy in Delray Beach, FL offers for improving relationships. Search for a therapist in Delray Beach, FL and learn more about trauma treatment in Palm Beach County, FL today.

    Begin Trauma Therapy in Delray Beach, FL

    Humans are social creatures by nature. As such, relationships are incredibly important. But sometimes our past experiences can create roadblocks that get in the way of experiencing the intimacy and connection we need for a healthy partnership. Individual, trauma-focused therapy, along with a safe and loving partner can provide a great recipe for success in allowing you to work on your “stuff” and enjoy a fulfilling relationship. Our team of caring therapists would be happy to help. Let’s get to work! You can start your therapy journey with Mangrove Therapy Group by following these steps:

    1. Contact Mangrove Therapy
    2. Meet with a caring therapist
    3. Start experiencing the benefits of EMDR!

    Other Services Offered with Mangrove Therapy

    Trauma therapy isn’t the only service offered by the team at Mangrove Therapy Group. Our therapists are experts in treating PTSD/C-PTSD, substance use disorders, eating disorders, body image issues, anger management, anxiety, low self-esteem, personality disorders, and much more. Please feel free to learn more about how we can support you. We also offer support with addictions such as process addictions, grief and loss, EMDR, “Failure to Launch” syndrome, CBT, and DBT. Feel free to learn more by visiting our blog or FAQ page to learn more today!