Benefits of a Trauma Recovery Program

Trauma recovery programs are designed to help individuals suffering from trauma or abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and/or sexual addiction/compulsivity. Such individuals may also be chemically dependent, and may even have co-occurring psychiatric issues. Some patients enter a trauma recovery program after they have completed traditional treatment for addiction and have relapsed. Research shows that there’s a high relapse rate among post-traditional addiction treatment patients who also have PTSD, unresolved sexual trauma or compulsive behaviors.

A trauma recovery program, then, serves a vital purpose in addressing the needs of an underserved population – many of whom are women.

Types of Trauma

According to trauma experts, trauma is either physical and/or psychological and most fall into one of three categories:

• Intense single event – This is a one-time occurrence that is so traumatic and disturbing that the individual cannot get over it alone. Such events may include an automobile/industrial accident, mugging or other act of personal violence, rape, abduction, robbery, a serious threat to life (of self or a loved one), natural disasters (earthquake, fire, hurricane, tornado, flood, etc.), and acts of terrorism.

• Repetitive, ongoing events – This type of trauma may continue for an unbroken or a long period of time and may be repetitive in nature. Such events may include self sexual or physical abuse, physical or psychological neglect of a profound nature, witnessing sexual or physical abuse and/or violence against others, prolonged illness or extensive medical procedures, military combat, torture, prisoners of war, kidnapping or other forms of captivity.

• Combination – Trauma in this category includes repetitive and ongoing events with intense single event trauma and may occur either at the same time or be separated by long periods of time.

The stress accompanying traumatic events demands coping strategies of the individual that far exceed their capabilities. They develop protective psychological mechanisms to help them deal with the stress, but this comes with a severe penalty. Over time, even after the trauma may be long past, the mind has not been able to reconcile the trauma with the sense of self. Without professional treatment, such individuals eventually become unable to function normally, as they are stuck in the past with these unresolved traumatic memories.

Trauma Recovery Programs Help Deal with Emotional Trauma

Unresolved emotional trauma can wreak havoc on even the most high-functioning individual. Symptoms of emotional trauma include the following:

• Episodes of lost time or dissociation

• Hopelessness or despair

• Low self-esteem

• Isolation from others

• Intense feeling of abandonment or loss

• Desire to harm one’s self

• Loss of meaning to live or sense of purpose

• Distorted sense of self or body image

• Feeling alienated from others or emotional numbness

• Chronic fatigue, insomnia, lethargy, loss of interest in normal activities

• Chronic anger or resentment

• Poor impulse control

• Obsessive thoughts or worries of an unwanted nature

• Night terrors, flashbacks, nightmares

• Inability to organize, plan or make decisions

Philosophies of Various Trauma Recovery Programs

Each treatment facility operates according to their own philosophy. Many incorporate a multi-disciplinary approach to treatment of trauma, much like treatment facilities for addictions such as substance, sexual compulsivity, and gambling, eating, co-occurring disorders and/or mental health issues.

In addition, many treatment facilities specialize in numerous types of addictions and may include trauma recovery programs as part of other addiction treatment plans. As such, the treatment facility may have an overarching philosophy which governs treatment.

A treatment facility might use a bio-psycho-social-spiritual approach to help address symptoms of PTSD, childhood and adult sexual abuse and/or non-sexual abuse, and various compulsive behaviors. They might use therapeutic approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), presentations of a psycho-educational nature, integrative therapies, family systems approaches, psycho-pharmacological interventions, and experiential therapies.

Patients discover personal emotional truths concerning fear, honesty, trust and dependency through therapeutic tools that include equine-assisted therapy (EAT), psychodrama, and adventure therapy.

What Happens in Trauma Recovery Programs

It is important for patients undergoing trauma recovery to be able to separate their identities from that of their symptoms. Part of the treatment plan involves required individual readings and assignments. Patients are encouraged to be supportive of each other’s efforts in recovery. The staff, meanwhile, maintains a compassionate attitude and helps patients to develop a sense of compassion – first for themselves, and then for others.

Acceptance and Belonging

Many patients in trauma recovery have huge issues over acceptance and belonging. They may have, for example, been isolated (emotionally and/or physically) for extended periods of time. Breaking this isolation is a key first element of trauma recovery. Specific sexual trauma recovery group meetings are held, as well as general trauma recovery meetings.

Efforts of specific sexual trauma recovery meetings are directed toward developing the individual’s self-esteem and self-worth, helping them to participate in developing their own psychological, and physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual growth, and to develop better ways of thinking and learn new coping mechanisms.

While many trauma recovery treatment programs have different tracks, each patient is assigned to a track based on specific need. The important part of trauma recovery programs, and one that cannot be stressed enough, is that it provides a safe environment in which healing can occur. Reducing shame and painful memories and perceptions during the exploration of traumatic and/or sexual issues is a major hurdle for many patients to successfully navigate.

EMDR in Trauma Recovery

One therapeutic method showing great success in the treatment of trauma is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (or EMDR). This innovative form of psychotherapy involves desensitizing and reprocessing traumatic memories by use of eye movements and bilateral stimulation. Sessions of EMDR are usually held weekly and last for about one hour. Participation in group therapy is also required.

According to trauma experts, trauma resides in the right side of the human brain. Talk therapy, which uses the brain’s left side, has the unfortunate side-effect of keeping people mired in those past traumatic experiences. Something else was required. In the hands of a trained EMDR therapist using the eye movements and bilateral stimulation, the patient is able to work on overcoming the past trauma while still feeling very much in the present. The key, again, is the safe environment in which the therapy is conducted.

EMDR has been successful in treating not only traumatic memories, but PTSD, panic disorders and anxiety and other issues related to a distressing or overwhelming event.

Typical Components of Trauma Recovery Programs

Again, each treatment facility will have its own philosophy, treatment modalities and schedules. What follows is a typical regimen for a trauma recovery program.

• Weekly therapeutic group – Facilitated by equine-assisted therapy, challenge course or climbing wall.

• Weekly grief group

• Weekly expressive arts group

• Weekly experiential therapy workshop – Attended by all patients in the trauma recovery program.

• Recreation – Individual time to devote to various recreational activities.

• Exercise and Nutrition – Personalized plans for patients to promote physical well-being through exercise and nutrition.

• Education – Components include sessions on neglect and abuse, forming boundaries, PTSD/trauma, domestic violence and cycle of violence, sexual addiction and compulsivity, how to develop a healthy sexuality, examining dysfunctional sexual and relationship behaviors, and relapse prevention.

• Inventory check-in group – Daily meeting for patients completing daily sexual abstinence and co-sexual abstinence behaviors. Meeting provides a forum for patients to process various sexual sobriety successes and challenges as well as to receive from and give feedback to staff and peers.

• 12-step meetings – Attendance at 12-step meetings, usually held on-site at the trauma recovery facility.

Another example of a trauma recovery program includes the following clinical services:

• Evaluation and assessment

• Individual, family and group psychotherapy

o Focused short-term

o Comprehensive long-term

o Child, adolescent and adult treatment

o Addiction recovery

• Art therapy

• Pain management

• Clinical hypnotherapy

• Play therapy

• Educational Programs


• Psychiatric in-patient and partial day hospitalization referral

• Bodywork and/or therapeutic massage

In addition, extensive family weekends are often part of trauma recovery programs. These are especially helpful for patients soon to be returned to a home environment.

Women’s Trauma Recovery Program

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs opened the national Women’s Trauma Recovery Program (WTRP), part of the National Center for PTSD in Menlo Park, California more than a decade ago. This national trauma center is the first residential center of its kind and is open to women across the country. Referrals to the center include many women who were sexually assaulted while they served in the military and now suffer what is known as military sexual trauma (MST).

The residential WTRP is a 60-day intensive program that has two tracks: a basic track emphasizing interpersonal skills and a second track involving intensive skills building for women who may find the basic track too rigorous. In the first two weeks of attendance, women undergo extensive psychosocial and psychological assessments in order that comprehensive treatment plans can be developed. Classes, or cohorts, of women work on problem-solving, effective communications, and management of PTSD/MST symptoms. Other areas covered include financial management and goal setting.

According to the WTRP web site, women who come into the program are often at the edge of disaster, having become overwhelmed by shame, pain and humiliation. During the program, they share their experiences, bond with each other, and emerge from the 60-day session as more confident and self-assured women.

For eligibility, curriculum, application and more information, visit the Women’s Trauma Recovery Program site.

Is Trauma Recovery For You?

In the aftermath of a traumatic event or episode, particularly one that involves violence, it’s natural to experience a wide range of emotional and physical struggles. You want to know why this happened to you, what you can do to overcome it, and how long it will take before you feel normal again.

You may turn to alcohol or drugs as a way of numbing your mind to the onslaught of painful memories, or to turn inward and away from the difficulties of daily living – problem-solving, making plans or implementing decisions. In fact, many trauma survivors do turn to such self-destructive substances as one means of reducing the constant pain and anguish, the shame, guilt, remorse and helplessness that linger from the trauma. But drugs and alcohol only mask the underlying problem – and make healing more hard to achieve.

Self-help books and tapes, hypnosis and meditation may prove helpful for a short time. But they are not a panacea, and will not eliminate the residual effects of the trauma. The only solution that really works involves professional trauma recovery. For the individual with PTSD, trauma and substance abuse, a holistic and integrated treatment approach offers the best outcomes.

How do you get started? Visit with your physician, counselor, or member of the clergy or victim witness coordinator. They can help you develop a plan to address your issues simultaneously. There are psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors who are trained in dealing with PTSD, trauma and substance abuse that may also be able to assist with various non-habit forming prescription drugs to help manage severe symptoms (such as from PTSD). A referral to a trauma recovery program – either residential or intensive outpatient – may be appropriate.

Look into whether your government or private health insurance benefits will cover a trauma recovery program or private counseling. Inquire about pay-as-you-go or ability to pay options, grants or scholarships, or available financing.

In the end, don’t let money stand in the way of getting appropriate and immediate trauma recovery treatment. In order to restore your life and rid yourself of the burden of past trauma, you need to do what you can today. Healing and harmony in mind-body-spirit begins with the first step. Take it.

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