Trauma Therapy vs. Self-Help: Navigating the Path to Healing
Trauma is an unfortunate but all-too-common aspect of the human experience. Whether it’s the result of a single traumatic event or prolonged exposure to distressing circumstances, the impact of trauma can be devastating. The good news is that there are numerous paths to healing, two of which are trauma therapy and self-help approaches. In this blog post, we will explore trauma therapy vs. self-help methods. We’ll discuss the benefits and limitations of each, with the aim of helping you make informed decisions about your healing journey.
Why am I writing this post? There are a few reasons. First, I’ll be honest. I love self help stuff. I’m the type of person that reads self help and self development books for fun. (I read tons of other stuff too! ). But it seems to me that we’ve had a huge uptick in the use of self help methods. Some things about it are very good. For example, many more men and women are aware of trauma, it’s causes, it’s signs and it’s symptoms. Other’s gain valuable skills and training from coaches and consultants of all kinds. I myself have benefitted enormously from working with people in the self help world.
But there is a down side. The self help industry is big business in the U.S. While the Unites States, and the State of California heavily regulate the healthcare industry, when it comes to unlicensed practice and “self help”, it’s the wild west. The result is that clients walk in my door every day having been misled by “Dr. Google”. They come to me after seeking “trauma treatment” from massage therapists, life coaches, dharma teachers, psychedelic guides, meditation workshop, leaders and a host of unqualified people.
Before we delve into the comparison between trauma therapy vs. self help, let’s understand what trauma is. Trauma is the lasting effect of Going through very stressful, frightening or distressing events. Trauma reactions can result from various experiences, including abuse, accidents, natural disasters, war, or even ongoing emotional neglect. Its effects range from mild to severe and may manifest in symptoms such as anxiety, anger, depression, flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance, numbing and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Expert Guidance: Trauma therapy involves working with trained professionals such as psychologists, counselors, or psychiatrists. These experts have the knowledge and experience to navigate the complexities of trauma and provide guidance tailored to your specific mental health needs.
- Evidence-Based Approaches: Therapists employ evidence-based approaches, which have undergone rigorous research and testing. These methods have a proven track record of helping individuals heal from trauma.
- Safe Space: In therapy, you have a safe and confidential environment to discuss your experiences and feelings. If you are working with a seasoned therapist, you can gain additional peace of mind knowing that he/she has probably heard it all. Working with a professional helps you to open up even though you may have fear of judgment or repercussions
- Customized Treatment Plans: Therapists create personalized treatment plans that are adapted to your unique circumstances. This ensures that your healing process aligns with your specific needs and goals.
- Emotional Support: Therapy provides a structured system of emotional support, helping you cope with the emotional weight of your trauma. Therapists can offer tools and coping strategies to manage distress.
- Cost: Trauma therapy can be expensive. If you are looking to use insurance coverage you may not have purchased a plan that provides you with good coverage. This financial burden can deter some individuals from seeking professional help.
- Time-Intensive: Trauma therapy is an ongoing process that requires multiple sessions over an extended period. For some, this may be a time commitment that they are unable or unwilling to make.
- Finding the Right Therapist: Finding a therapist with the right expertise and a strong therapeutic connection can be challenging. The search for the right fit can be a discouraging process. If some or all of your trauma is interpersonal/relational in nature, then it’s likely you will have work to get past your triggers and avoidance habits, even to begin therapy.
- Revisiting Painful Memories: Trauma therapy often involves revisiting painful memories, which can be emotionally tiring and may temporarily exacerbate symptoms.
- Emotional Discomfort: While most people report a great relief at being able to get things off their chest, trauma survivors will often have anxiety, shame, impatience and hopelessness to work through with the therapist. This discomfort can lead to therapy interfering behaviors and flights from treatment.
Self-Help Approaches For Trauma Recovery
- Empowerment: Self-help approaches empower individuals to take some control of their healing journey. A big reason people don’t progress in life is because they stay rigidly in a victim mentality. A sense of agency can be profoundly therapeutic.
- Psychoeducation: If you are getting quality information on recovering from trauma, self help materials can help give you a roadmap. They can help you gain a concrete understanding what the recovery goals and tasks are.
- Low Cost: Many self-help resources are affordable or even free. This accessibility makes self-help an attractive option for those with financial constraints.
- Flexibility: Self-help can be pursued at your own pace and on your own schedule. This flexibility allows you to tailor your healing journey to your specific needs. For example, many of my clients pace or titrate their reading so that they don’t get too triggered or activated.
- Privacy: You can explore self-help resources in the comfort of your own space, allowing you privacy and discretion.
- Diverse Resources: There is an abundance of self-help resources, including books, online courses, apps, and support groups. This variety allows you to choose what works best for you.
- Lack of Expert Guidance: Self-help approaches do not provide the guidance of trained professionals. As a result, it may be challenging to navigate the complexities of trauma without professional insight.
- Inconsistent Quality: The quality of self-help resources can vary significantly. While there are excellent self-help materials available, there are also many that lack evidence-based foundations and can be harmful and misleading.
- Overwhelm: The sheer volume of self-help resources can be overwhelming, making it difficult to choose the right path. This can lead to frustration and confusion.
- Isolation: Self-help approaches can be isolating. They can foster the damaging illusion that you can resolve your trauma alone. Many individuals can only recover with treatment, and the myth that you can do it entirely on your own could be the voice of your trauma keeping you isolated and hiding.
- Limited Effectiveness: Self-help methods may not be effective for everyone, especially those with severe or complex trauma. In some cases, professional guidance is an absolute necessary. In my career, I’ve seen quite a few clients get destabilized and get worse because they unknowingly used self help methods of various kinds.
Trauma Recovery, Moving On and The Avoidance Trap
When talking about trauma recovery, it’s important to keep in mind that there is one major obstacle that stands between many trauma survivors and resolution and recovery. It’s called avoidance. Marsha Linehan, the originator of DBT referred to these as “escape maneuvers”. These are things we do to avoid dealing with unbearable feelings.
Avoidance in trauma recovery takes many forms. It can occur in any type of trauma reaction. For example, I once worked with “Steven”. This man was a lifelong athlete and spent most of his time outdoors, working in the fitness and recreation industry. One terrible day, he found himself caught in in an avalanche while skiing. Once he was rescued, he decided that he would Before coming to me for trauma therapy, he assiduously avoid anything that reminded him of this horrifying incident. He stayed away from snow, skiing, and mountains. He broke off contact with his former skiing buddies. His adopted the motto “move on and don’t look back.” While his doctors urged him to consider seeing a trauma specialist, his friends and family supported him in this misguided effort to ignore what he’d been through.
While he had some success at keeping himself from ever thinking about the incident, his nervous system told the true tale of what he had been through. “Steven” suffered from nightmares, developed severe G.I. symptoms and found his mood “switching back and forth between detached and super moody”.
Avoidance can be particularly strong if the trauma is relational in nature. Trauma survivors often will avoid anything that triggers discomfort, sadly this often includes competent treatment.
In closing, self help can be of benefit, but it’s insufficient to heal developmental trauma. So when it comes to considering trauma therapy vs. self-help it’s important to think in terms of complete trauma recovery. Recovering from trauma, especially developmental or complex trauma, requires a psychotherapeutic relationship with a trauma specialist.
Trauma Therapy vs. Self-Help: Choosing the Right Path
When deciding between trauma therapy and self-help, it’s essential to consider your individual circumstances and needs. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to healing from trauma. Here are some factors to consider:
- Severity of Trauma: If you have experienced severe trauma, such as childhood abuse or combat-related PTSD, seeking professional is likely to be the safest and most effective option.
- Financial Considerations: Evaluate your budget. Make decisions about the pros and cons of using insurance coverage. If cost is a significant concern, explore self-help resources or inquire about sliding-scale fees with mental health clinics.
- Personal Readiness: Consider your comfort level with self guided work and with therapy. Reflect on whether you are really ready to work with a therapist. Some individuals may decide they are not up for the work of therapy.
- Time Commitment: Reflect on your availability and willingness to commit to therapy sessions. If your schedule is packed or you prefer not to commit to treatment, the flexibility of self-help resources might be a better fit.
- Previous Experiences: Take into account any prior experiences with therapy or self-help approaches. What has worked for you in the past? What hasn’t?
- Support Network: Evaluate your support network. If you have friends and family who have the wisdom, maturity and availability to provide emotional support, self-help may be a more viable option.
- Complexity of Trauma: Consider the complexity of your trauma. Complex trauma, which often involves repeated, long-term exposure, requires professional intervention.
For many people , a combination of trauma therapy and self-help is be a valuable approach. Therapy provides a strong trauma recovery foundation, while self-help resources can complement and reinforce the therapeutic process. In my practice, I’ve seen that the clients that gain the most complete recoveries prioritize trauma therapy and supplement it with self help methods.
Remember that healing from trauma is a highly individualized journey, and it’s essential to prioritize your well-being.
Healing from trauma is a challenging and deeply personal journey.
So if you are contemplating trauma therapy vs. self-help approaches, know that each offers distinct benefits and limitations. The right path for you will depend on your unique circumstances, needs, and preferences. Whether you choose professional guidance, self-help resources, or a combination of both, the most important step is acknowledging the need for healing and taking that first courageous step toward recovery. Ultimately, the goal is to regain control over your life and find a path to healing that works best for you.
Please learn more about my trauma treatment services by having a look around my site.