What is trauma focused therapy and how can it help to treat addiction?

When examining addictions there are both emotional and mental factors which drive a person to abuse substances. It has been identified that there is a correlation between addiction and trauma. Traumatic experiences often trigger how a person reacts to certain situations and how they may deal with their emotions.

Long-term psychological and emotional issues are often side-effects of trauma. These issues may cause a person to self-medicate and abuse substances as a coping mechanism. As the link between trauma and addiction is so strong, it is vital to address and treat the person's trauma in order for them to heal and be successful in recovery.

Addictive behaviour can act as a survival strategy for many people. It is often used to block or numb certain memories. As well as an attempt to combat depression, self-soothe or encourage dissociating.

Trauma in childhood or adolescence can affect a person’s ability to develop human connection and sense of safety. As well as understanding how a supportive relationship should feel. These factors may lead to the person showing addictive behaviour as they are using this as a survival strategy to help them cope.

Trauma focused therapy identifies and addresses the root cause of addiction. It is common that people with substance abuse issues also suffer with some mental health conditions which may lead them to abuse drugs or alcohol to self-medicate the symptoms.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the underlying mental health conditions. Trauma focused therapy looks at the relationship between mental health and addiction and seeks to break the abusive cycle.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is based on the idea that behaviours and feelings are caused by a person’s thoughts rather than events, situations and people. You are then able to change the way you think about certain circumstances.

There has been research which shows that children and adolescents who experience severe emotional effects due to trauma respond well to this type of therapy. People who undergo CBT for trauma like PTSD experience fewer symptoms after treatment.

It has been identified that when looking at clients’ statements at the beginning and end of treatment, that there’s a shift to a more positive perspective about their trauma. There have also been other improvements for clients such as:

  • Feelings of safety
  • Intimacy and relationships
  • Tolerance of negative emotions
  • Ability to trust
  • Self-esteem

Some people may breakdown Trauma recovery into three stages:

  1. Establishing safety – Trauma shatters your ideas about safety and trust – therefore it is important for you to build up and feel a sense of safety and trust. Therapists may suggest going into your imagination and creating a place that feels like a safe space for you.
  2. Retelling the story of a traumatic event – By telling your story of trauma to a therapist this may give you a sense of power which may have been taken away from you.
  3. Reconnecting with others – You must develop a new self. The goal being to emerge with a sense of empowerment and reconnection. In this stage you will become more focused on the present and the future and not so controlled by the past.

Our therapists are trained in psycho-dynamic therapy. This approach to looking at trauma focuses on several different factors, for example:

  • Current relationships
  • Early Childhood experiences (focusing on the level of attachment to our parents)
  • Unconscious coping mechanisms that people may use to shield themselves from distressing feelings and thoughts which are the result of going through a traumatic event

What is specific about psycho-dynamic therapy is that it highlights the unconscious mind. This is where we store thoughts, feelings and urges that may be too painful or distressing for us to look at directly.

These painful feelings, although outside of our awareness, still have an affect on our behaviour. The psycho-dynamic therapy approach to trauma wants to address and change people’s behaviour.

The therapist will start to break down unhealthy mechanisms and bring insight to underlying problems. By identifying this, the client can begin the process of working through these uncomfortable feelings in a healthier way.

There are many benefits of Trauma Focused therapy, below are just a few:

  • You are able to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of trauma
  • Shift focus from the past to the present
  • Improve daily function, including regulation of the nervous system
  • Reclaim personal power
  • Overcome addictions associated with trauma and stress
  • Gain coping skills that will help prevent relapse

These can all be positive outcomes of Trauma focused therapy, along with many other benefits. It just takes you to make the step and fully take advantage of the therapy for yourself. This is the only way that you will achieve these positive goals.

There are many other therapies that can be used to help you on your recovery journey. These could include:

Trauma Focused Therapy will fit into your recovery process as you work through the programme. As you begin to work through the 12-steps, you will find that surrendering yourself to the addiction and being able to fully open up to your therapists will benefit you. This is vital to being successful. If you are struggling with traumas in your life which haven’t been addressed before then this therapy is something that will help you to achieve recovery.