How to Process Trauma in Therapy

Medically reviewed by Dr. Mark Hrymoc, M.D.

Processing trauma in therapy involves creating a safe space where individuals can explore and understand their traumatic experiences. With the guidance of a qualified therapist, individuals can use various techniques such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, EMDR, or narrative therapy to work through emotions, memories, and develop coping strategies. It’s important for the therapy to be paced appropriately to avoid retraumatization.

Reports suggest that 6% of Americans, over 8 million, will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to research, traumatic experiences included 49% sexual assaults, 32% physical assaults, 16.8% serious accidents, and 15.4% shot or stabbed. In addition, 14.3% lost a loved one, 10.4% were parents of children who are dying, 7.3% witnessed violence against another person, and 3.8% survived a natural disaster. It’s important to mention that over 300 million war survivors worldwide have PTSD.

Symptoms can interfere with daily functioning at work, school, and home. If you or someone you know has experienced trauma, keep reading. There are specific steps you can take to heal. First, learn more about trauma, trauma therapy, and the benefits of processing trauma in therapy.

In this article, you will discover how to process trauma in therapy.

How to Process Trauma in Therapy

In therapy, processing trauma is a delicate endeavor that requires a safe and supportive environment. The fundamental objective is to help individuals work through distressing emotions, memories, and sensations associated with traumatic events. Before delving into traumatic experiences, it’s essential to establish a foundation of trust between the client and the therapist. A therapist must ensure that the client has ample coping skills to manage emotional responses as they begin to unpack traumatic memories. Additionally, it’s imperative to proceed at a pace that’s comfortable for the client, as moving too quickly may exacerbate distress.

Several specialized therapeutic approaches are geared towards trauma processing. One widely used method is Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), which focuses on examining and reframing negative thoughts about the trauma. Another approach, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), entails processing distressing memories while focusing on an external stimulus, such as a finger moving from side to side. Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET) is also used, in which clients are encouraged to recount their traumatic experiences repeatedly, which can help reduce the power these memories hold. Somatic therapies are also effective, focusing on the physical responses to trauma and fostering a connection between the body and mind.

Additionally, art therapy, group therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are valuable in processing trauma. It’s important to note that trauma therapy is not a one-size-fits-all. Clients might respond differently to various techniques. Therefore, a personalized treatment plan that takes into account the nature of the trauma, the individual’s history, current coping mechanisms, and personal preferences is indispensable. The process of trauma therapy can be difficult and emotionally draining, but with the right support and therapeutic intervention, individuals can work through their trauma and move towards healing and growth.

Types of Traumas

Traumatic events that lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, such as abuse, accidents, or natural disasters, are classified into three categories, discussed below:

  • Acute Trauma

Acute trauma is typically a single event that can be severe enough to make you feel fear, anxiety, and a lack of security. It can significantly impact your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Examples of acute traumas may include rape, major accident, physical assault, or natural disaster. It can lead to acute stress disorder.

  • Chronic Trauma

Repeated traumatic events characterize chronic trauma. They don’t occur just once but multiple times over a long period. If an acute trauma occurs more than two or three times, it can become chronic. Chronic trauma includes war combat, gang violence in a community, domestic violence, lingering health problems, and starvation.

  • Complex Trauma

Complex traumas refer to the mental health problems you have as an adult resulting from the childhood traumas you endured as a child. One example is the abandonment and neglect experienced as a child can lead to a lack of trust and the inability to maintain healthy relationships. Complex traumas may also include sex trafficking, abduction or kidnapping, incest, living in a war zone, and ongoing abuse.

What Is Trauma Therapy?

Trauma therapy is a form of psychotherapy to help you process the traumatic event you experienced so that it does not affect your mental, physical, social, or spiritual well-being. A mental health professional leads trauma therapy with specific training in trauma-focused treatments.

You learn to respond to emotional triggers, reduce fear, build trust, develop coping skills, and minimize the trauma’s impact on your life to enjoy a productive, happy lifestyle.

Types of Trauma Therapies

An initial assessment by a mental health professional will provide insight into which types of trauma-focused therapies will work best for them. Options may include the following:

  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a highly effective and efficient technique that uses eye movements to help you process traumatic events. It must only be done by licensed or certified EMDR professionals.
  • Trauma Resilience Model (TRM) helps you overcome trauma by teaching the nervous system how to process distress properly. It also involves a somatic component, working from the outside inward, including bodily responses, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TFCBT) helps you figure out how your thoughts, feelings, and actions are related to the trauma you experienced. It also teaches you coping strategies and skills.
  • Post-Induction Therapy (PIT) Model, like the kind at the Mental Health Center, where Pia Melody trains professionals, helps people overcome codependency, love addiction, attachment disorders, and others that lead to emotional immaturity in adulthood.

Frequently Asked Questions

When discussing how to process trauma in therapy, many have questions unique to their past or current situation. Some questions appear more frequently than others, like the ones below:

How to do trauma processing in therapy?

In therapy, trauma processing involves creating a safe environment where the client can explore and make sense of their traumatic experiences. Therapists use various techniques such as Cognitive Processing Therapy, EMDR, and talk therapy to help clients process emotions, thoughts, and memories associated with trauma.

How do you process trauma correctly?

Processing trauma correctly involves working with a qualified therapist to safely explore traumatic experiences. It’s important to build coping skills to manage emotional responses, systematically address traumatic memories, and reframe negative beliefs. A paced and individualized approach is essential to prevent retraumatization.

What techniques are used in trauma therapy?

Techniques used in trauma therapy include Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Prolonged Exposure (PE), Somatic Experiencing, and various art therapies. These techniques aim to help individuals process traumatic memories and develop coping skills for emotional regulation.

How do therapists resolve trauma?

Therapists resolve trauma by helping clients to safely explore and reprocess traumatic memories, emotions, and thoughts. Through different therapeutic techniques, they support clients in developing coping skills, enhancing emotional regulation, and creating new, healthier narratives around their experiences.

What method is most effective for processing trauma?

The effectiveness of trauma processing methods varies among individuals. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) are often cited as highly effective. However, the best method depends on the nature of the trauma, individual preferences, and the therapist’s expertise.

How do I unpack trauma?

Unpacking trauma involves acknowledging its presence and seeking support from a therapist. Through therapy, individuals can begin to explore the traumatic experience in a safe space, identify triggers, process emotions, and work toward integrating the trauma into their life narrative in a healthier way.

What does trauma release feel like?

Trauma release can feel like a mixture of emotional relief and exhaustion. It might involve crying, shaking, or feeling a physical release of tension. For some, it’s a gradual process that brings clarity and calm over time. It’s often accompanied by a newfound understanding or perspective on past events.


If you have experienced trauma and are having difficulty getting over it, professional therapists can help. You no longer must feel stuck, alone, or helpless. Contact the Mental Health Center to start working with a qualified therapist who can help you process trauma in therapy.

Millions of people experience trauma each year. Each of them can experience relief from negative symptoms by participating in trauma-focused therapies. Whether it is EMDR or talk therapy, there is a technique to help you cope with trauma and move forward. When you process trauma in therapy, you can start living the healthy, happy life you desire. The Mental Health Center can help you get there.