Do Trauma Therapists Only Treat Trauma?
Therapy for Psychological Trauma versus Therapy for Stress
Trauma therapists do specialize in treating trauma. Conceptually however, trauma exists on a continuum from minor hassle to major catastrophe. If you ask a room full of a hundred people (and we have) who in the room has experienced stress, can you guess how many hands would shoot up? You got it, all of them! So when asked if a trauma therapist is only able to treat trauma, the answer depends on your definition of trauma. If you are including the full spectrum of stress and trauma then a trauma therapist could help most people on this planet to heal and live their best life.
Most, if not all, mental health diagnoses and symptoms are exacerbated by stress and trauma. In fact, in May of 2013, the expert psychologists and researchers working with the American Psychiatric Association (APA) chose to update the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). In the DSM-5, a whole new class of disorders was added under the category of Trauma-and Stressor-Related Disorder. Further, the clinical definition of trauma within the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was expanded to include a wider variety of situations that could be considered trauma. These decisions were the product of more than 10 years of effort by hundreds of international experts in the field of trauma.
Why is this important when choosing a therapist? Because it means that a therapist who is highly experienced in treating the complexities of trauma is very likely to be able to treat conditions such as depression, anxiety, inattention, sleep difficulties, and even psychosis. Complex trauma can include symptoms from each of these or present for example as depression and anxiety. Further, trauma does not always fit neatly into one clinical category. Stress looks different on everyone. Some people become angry and enraged, others sad and isolated, some become manipulative in desperate efforts to control their environment, and everyone is capable of growth in the wake of trauma and stress. Excellent therapists who can treat trauma and stress must be able to listen non-judgmentally and treat each individual comprehensively, no matter what their formal diagnosis or symptom presentation.