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An EMDR clinic in Saint Paul, Minnesota

Is Your Therapist Really Trauma-Informed?

At Strength and Healing Counseling, we know many things in life require courage. That includes getting help. Let’s face it – going to therapy takes courage! We have to be able to trust that we are safe and in good hands with the therapist we reach out to. We have a right to be empowered and treated with compassion. The therapist you choose to work with needs to be truly trauma informed.

Not all trauma therapists are created equal
Many therapists truly do understand trauma and understand how this informs their work helping and supporting you. Many do not. As mental health services become more widely accepted, as the reality of trauma is more openly talked about, the opportunity to understand and respond to trauma can not be overlooked. Much of the training provided does include understanding trauma, its impact, how it manifests differently depending on many factors, and how to use this information when providing therapy to the person needing support. It is an especially good sign if the therapist has trauma specific training.

What does ‘trauma-informed’ mean?
Language around being ‘trauma informed’ is popular, gaining momentum, and more and more common. It is also critical. But just because a website or blog article says a therapist has this knowledge, does not make it so. So, what does it mean? It means the therapist has knowledge of, and the ability to notice the signs and symptoms of trauma, the skill to assist you safely, with compassion, and the experience to help you decide what to do and when. Some therapists have personal experience with trauma, intuition, or a natural ability to connect and help you feel safe. Some therapists have knowledge and background that does make them ‘trauma informed’. An effective therapists has this knowledge, but must also have the experience to know what to do with it?

How do I know?
Ask questions. You may choose to simply ask your therapist, or potential therapist, to talk about it. What is their understanding of trauma and what experience have they had? Then consider being specific, if you are comfortable doing so. Let’s stop for a moment and notice something. I just wrote ‘…if you are comfortable doing so.’ I did not tell you to be comfortable doing so. This is trauma-informed writing. I also said ‘consider’ as the action word, and this gives you the control, not the writer, and not the therapist. My hope is that this helps you feel empowered and respected as you read this. This is how it should feel with a truly trauma informed therapist.

Do you need trauma therapy?
Any therapy, regardless of the focus or approach, needs a therapist who understands trauma. They need to be able to recognize when your emotional well being has been directly impacted by a traumatic experience. But if the therapy you need is specifically related to your trauma, you need a therapist with training in at least one trauma specific modality. My go to, unabashedly, is EMDR and EMDR related approaches. Read more about EMDR here. There are many types of trauma and many approaches. Sometimes finding a therapist who does not specialize is a great place to start. If they are truly trauma informed, they will know to help you find a therapist who does specialize. Other therapeutic approaches include Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Brainspotting, cognitive processing therapy, prolonged exposure therapy, trauma informed play therapy, etc.