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  • Writer's pictureDr. Niemeyer

Seeking Help After Trauma

Many people call me asking if I can help after a traumatic event. Helping patients cope with trauma is something I feel passionate about. I feel that it takes a very delicate balance listen and honor someone’s bravery when they share their trauma with me and then to help that person take the next step towards redefining how that trauma shapes the future.

I have significant clinical experience and training in the treatment of trauma in both children in adults. Working in community mental health in Los Angeles, many of my clients had experienced multiple, complex traumas and were living in families who had experienced multiple generations of traumatic events. This experience helped me to view “trauma” as not just a single event, but at times a lens through which to see the world. From there, I took a job at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles where I worked on Project Heal, a team focused solely on treating trauma and posttraumatic stress in children and their families. In that role, I provided therapy, supervised trainees, and provided trainings to the clinic and community about the impact of traumatic events.

Usually when people call looking for help with their trauma, they ask me what type of approach I will use. The field of mental health has done a very good job educating consumers about the importance of getting good trauma-informed treatment. Because of this, many people have heard about different approaches to treating trauma and may be seeking a specific type of treatment.

So let me tell you about the two approaches I use. I use a combination of prolonged exposure for trauma and cognitive processing therapy. Both of these treatments are evidence-based treatments for trauma and recommended by the American Psychological Association as Strongly Recommended treatments for recovering from trauma and posttraumatic stress.

Prolonged Exposure (PE)

Prolonged Exposure is an approach which helps individuals to desensitize themselves to the power and impact of their memories. We do this by telling and retelling the memories until the amount of emotion decreases. Once the emotional response is decreased, an individual no longer experiences so many intense emotions, intrusive thoughts or images, and ongoing fear of situations in their lives. While this may sound scary or just plain awful (who wants to talk about their trauma over and over?), most patients report that it feels like a “relief” and it feels like a weight has been lifted. The way I often explain it is, you are carrying this around with you every single day and it takes a lot of effort to keep pushing away that memory, this therapy will just allow you to stop all of the effort and fear you are already experiencing.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

Although I originally treated trauma just using exposure, over time I have come to also incorporate CPT into my treatment because I believe that a very important part of moving forward after trauma is to change the meaning you give your memories. Sometimes it is not enough to simply desensitize yourself to what you experienced. You also need to create a meaning that you can live with and that allows you to move forward in life. Cognitive Processing Therapy focuses on finding those “stuck points” and unhelpful thoughts that you may carry with you from your experience and reform those thoughts into more helpful ways of approaching life.

In sum, I use these two approaches because they have the strongest research base to support their efficacy and also because I have found them to work with my own patients. I encourage you to do your own research but also to call me and ask questions about my approach. Finding someone to trust with this kind of treatment can be daunting, the most important thing is that you feel confident and comfortable enough to take that first step.

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