Social work covers a range of roles and specialties. Working with people who have experienced trauma is common in this line of work, so it is crucial to understand how to treat it. Let’s explore some of the treatments that social workers use and the importance of trauma-informed care. If you are already in a social work career or considering this option, you could play a significant role in helping people deal with trauma and live fuller lives.
How to treat trauma in social care
Treating trauma in social care involves providing support to individuals who have experienced traumatic events, such as abuse, neglect, natural disasters or violence. The aim is to help them heal from emotional and psychological wounds and rebuild their sense of safety, security and well-being.
Many factors can impact trauma, especially environmental factors. Even where someone lives can have an impact, with studies suggesting that those in urban areas, like big cities, have increased rates of mood and anxiety disorders. Finding your next social work NY role will almost certainly mean meeting people who have experienced trauma – and Keuka College’s courses will equip you with the skills to deal with them. Whether you work as a marriage and family therapist, a clinical social worker, a mental health counselor, or one of the many other roles available, trauma is often something many clients have in common.
Here is a quick look at the key approaches that are commonly used in treating trauma in social care. We’ll discuss them in more detail later in this article.
- Trauma-focused psychotherapy: This type of therapy focuses specifically on the traumatic event and its aftermath. It can include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and other evidence-based approaches.
- Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage the symptoms of trauma, such as anxiety, depression or insomnia.
- Support groups: Joining a support group can be a helpful way for individuals to connect with others who have had similar experiences and provide mutual support.
- Creative therapies: Creative therapies, such as art therapy or music therapy, can be a way for individuals to express themselves and process their emotions related to their trauma.
- Mindfulness and self-care: Practicing mindfulness and self-care, such as exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep, can be helpful in managing the symptoms of trauma and improving a client’s overall well-being.
It is important to note that everyone experiences trauma differently, and the approach to treatment should be tailored to the individual’s specific needs and preferences. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Additionally, it is important to have a trauma-informed care approach in which providers understand the impact of trauma and strive to create the right environment for individuals who are seeking care.
The importance of trauma-informed care
Trauma-informed care is an approach to healthcare and social services that recognizes the impact of trauma and takes steps to address it. It involves creating a safe and supportive space for people who have experienced trauma and treating them with dignity and respect.
Here are some key benefits of a trauma-informed approach.
- Improves outcomes: A trauma-informed approach can improve treatment outcomes by addressing the underlying causes of trauma-related symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
- Reduces re-traumatization: A trauma-informed approach helps to reduce the risk of re-traumatization by avoiding practices that could trigger traumatic memories or experiences wherever possible, such as intrusive questions or physical restraints.
- Increases trust and engagement: When individuals feel heard and respected, they are more likely to trust and engage with their care providers, which can improve their overall quality of care.
- Promotes healing: A trauma-informed approach recognizes that healing from trauma is a journey and provides individuals with the support and resources they need to heal and move forward.
- Improves organizational culture: Adopting a trauma-informed approach can improve the culture of an organization by promoting a values-based approach that prioritizes the needs and well-being of individuals who have experienced trauma.
You should be aware that trauma-informed care is not just a single intervention but a holistic approach that involves the entire organization and other agencies working together, including policies, procedures and training. By taking a trauma-informed approach, social care providers can create a safer and more supportive environment for individuals who have experienced trauma.
The five principles of trauma-informed care are:
Some of the experiences you may encounter
There are a lot of different experiences that lead to trauma that you might encounter when dealing with clients. Here are some of the most common.
- Physical abuse as an adult, such as domestic violence or assault
- Sexual abuse
- Childhood neglect or abuse
- Witnessing or being the victim of violence
- Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes or wildfires
- Car accidents or other serious accidents
- The sudden, unexpected loss of a loved one
- Chronic illness or injury
- Combat or military service
- Being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness
- Police brutality or racial profiling
- Childhood bullying or emotional abuse
- Being the victim of a crime, such as robbery or theft
- Living in a war-torn or violent community
- Being held captive or kidnapped
It is important to note that what may cause long-term trauma for one person could affect another individual in a different way. The experience of trauma is subjective and can depend on a variety of factors, such as the individual’s coping mechanisms, support system and previous life experiences.
Getting back to treatments and approaches to treating trauma, let’s begin with trauma-focused psychotherapy. This type of therapy focuses specifically on the traumatic event and its aftermath. Trauma-focused psychotherapy aims to help individuals process their traumatic experiences, overcome any related emotional and psychological distress, and move forward in a positive direction.
There are several types of trauma-focused psychotherapy. Here is a look at some of the most popular approaches.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT helps individuals challenge and change negative thoughts and behaviors related to their trauma. One example is a person who has a fear of large crowds. By helping them understand themselves and their behavior, they can take steps to overcome their fear. Talking or writing their thoughts could be the starting point before progressing to bigger steps, which could lead to attending an event where there is a large crowd. The steps in between would increase gradually over a period of time.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is a type of therapy that involves rapid eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation to help individuals process their traumatic memories. This can be used to reduce the effects of PTSD.
Therapy using EMDR involves the following phases:
- Gathering the full details and history from the patient.
- Preparing the client by explaining the treatment and ensuring they understand and agree to it
- Body scan
Prolonged exposure therapy (PE)
PE is a type of therapy that involves gradually facing and confronting traumatic memories in a safe and controlled environment. An example would be a driver who was the victim of an accident and has developed a fear of driving. Therapy might include them sitting in the car without driving before building up to driving to the store at the end of their street, increasing their distances each time. They may have a friend, family member or therapist in the car with them until they feel comfortable driving alone.
Somatic experiencing (SE)
SE is a type of therapy that focuses on the physical sensations associated with trauma and helps individuals regulate their physiological responses. The person who is experiencing trauma may feel trapped in their own mental turmoil. By helping them to build awareness about their own body and the different sensations they experience, you can help them release those linked to the trauma. This can include specific breathing exercises, physical exercises if they are able to do so, massage and learning grounding techniques.
Medication and its effectiveness in treating trauma
Medication can form an effective part of a comprehensive treatment plan for individuals who have experienced trauma. The goal of medication in treating trauma is to manage symptoms such as anxiety, depression and insomnia, all of which can result from the traumatic event. In most cases, this should be used alongside other treatments and approaches. Medication alone is rarely effective.
Here are some common types of medication used in treating trauma:
- Antidepressants: Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. They can serve as a temporary way of boosting mood in those whose symptoms make it difficult to motivate themselves to take the first positive steps toward recovery.
- Anti-anxiety medications: Medications for anxiety, such as benzodiazepines, can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and promote relaxation. They are particularly helpful alongside treatments in which the person is encouraged to start with small steps, such as when trying to overcome anxiety or reduce panic attacks in social settings. They can also promote better sleep, which has many positive benefits for our minds and bodies.
- Sleep medications: Sleeping pills and similar medications, such as sedatives or hypnotics, can help individuals who are having difficulty sleeping due to trauma-related symptoms.
As mentioned earlier, medication should not be the only form of treatment for trauma. It is often most effective when used in conjunction with other treatments, such as trauma-focused psychotherapy and self-care practices. Additionally, medication should be prescribed and monitored by a healthcare provider who is experienced in treating trauma.
It is also important to be aware of the potential side effects of medication and regularly review the need for medication with a healthcare provider. If you are working in a social care setting but lack the required qualifications to prescribe medication, you can refer your clients to a professional for more information about switching medications if the side effects are problematic.
Individuals should not stop taking medication without the guidance of a healthcare provider because this can result in withdrawal symptoms and make things worse.
Support groups and their effectiveness in treating trauma
Support groups can be a valuable resource for individuals who have experienced trauma. They provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals to share their experiences, connect with others who have been through similar experiences, and receive support and guidance from other group members who have navigated certain aspects of the healing process.
Here are some key benefits of support groups for individuals who have experienced trauma.
- Normalization of experiences: By connecting with others who have been through similar experiences, your clients can feel less isolated and better understand that they are not alone in their struggles. This can alleviate guilt, self-blame and other feelings of self-stigmatization.
- Empowerment: Support groups can help individuals feel empowered by giving them the opportunity to take control of their healing process and by providing them with the tools and resources to do so. Feeling helpless can be a major factor in exacerbating certain mental health conditions. Having something to do, however small, is often beneficial.
- Improved mental health: By sharing their experiences and receiving support and guidance, individuals can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, improve their overall well-being, and feel more positive about their future. Although it is important for them to get help from a qualified therapist, it is also useful to relate to and support others with similar experiences, and support groups usually have a therapist leading the group.
- Increased sense of community: Support groups can provide individuals with a sense of community and belonging, which can be particularly important for anyone who may have lost social connections due to trauma. Taking the first steps to get out there and socialize with other people can be daunting. It may be easier for some people to do this in a supportive setting.
- Gain new perspectives and coping strategies: By participating in support groups, individuals can gain new perspectives and coping strategies from others who have navigated similar experiences. Everyone is at a different stage and has unique experiences, and this means they can share advice with some group members and receive advice from others.
It is important to note that support groups are not a substitute for individual therapy or medical care. Instead, they should be used as a complementary form of support. People who have experienced trauma need to receive comprehensive care that addresses both the physical and psychological effects of this trauma.
Mindfulness can be useful, too
Mindfulness is a form of mental training that involves focusing one’s attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. In the context of social work, mindfulness can be used as a tool for clients who have experienced trauma to help them manage their emotions and feelings, reduce stress and improve overall well-being.
It is another useful form of treatment that can be used alongside others, and you don’t need any medical qualifications to help trauma sufferers use it effectively. However, you can gain a deeper understanding of mindfulness by taking one of the many short courses available or by regularly practicing it yourself.
Here are some of the types of mindfulness and the key benefits for those who have experienced trauma.
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR): MBSR is a program that uses mindfulness techniques to help manage stress and improve physical and emotional well-being. Stress has been proven to cause and aggravate certain health problems, so it is reasonable to expect to see an improvement in some of these aspects by practicing something that involves reducing stress.
- Mindful self-compassion: Mindful self-compassion involves developing a kind and compassionate attitude toward one’s own difficult thoughts and feelings. This can help individuals who have experienced trauma be more accepting and understanding of their own emotions. One way this works is by helping your client become more self-aware. This involves understanding their thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Other forms of therapy encourage this self-awareness as a step toward dealing with the deeper issues around trauma.
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT): This combines elements of cognitive therapy with mindfulness practices to help individuals manage symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can help to build coping skills, which are not just important for overcoming trauma but for dealing with new and related issues in the future. It also promotes healthier ways of thinking. For example, your client may replace unhealthy habits like turning to alcohol or lashing out at those around them with some of the techniques they practice during these mindfulness sessions.
- Body-oriented mindfulness: Body-oriented mindfulness involves paying attention to one’s physical sensations in the present moment. This can help anyone who has experienced trauma to regulate their physiological responses and manage symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Mindfulness is often most effective when used in conjunction with other treatments, such as trauma-focused psychotherapy and medication, if prescribed. Additionally, receiving mindfulness training from a qualified practitioner can be advantageous if you want to help your clients get the greatest benefit from these practices.
Helping trauma sufferers is a complex process that is treated most effectively when social work professionals and other agencies work together and make use of the different options available to them. The approach should be tailored to the client’s needs. If you have a career in social work, seeing improvements in your clients can be rewarding and make it all feel worthwhile.