Dr. Roslyn L. Ashford, LPC Nu Leaf Therapy

The beginner's guide to

Trauma Therapy

If you’ve experienced a trauma, do you have unwanted, unexpected memories that overwhelm you so much so that you’ve tried different ways to escape or avoid thinking about or feeling your feelings? Still trying to make sense of why this happened? Looking at mistakes you think you or someone else made, to make sure this never happens again? If you’re feeling stuck, then you must understand and treat your PTSD symptoms. 

In this guide, we’ll cover everything from why some people experience trauma but don’t have PTSD, to common challenges to recovery, to how the right therapy can get you unstuck in as little as 3 months. You’ll also learn how to get started with me for trauma therapy.

If you’ve ever tried therapy before, unsuccessfully diving into the past and gotten stuck even more, you may have run for your life and exited therapy stage left. Most people think they have to talk about ALL the details of their traumatic past to recover, but that’s not true.
There’s a less intrusive, evidence-based treatment for trauma that’s all about doing the homework to challenge where and why you got stuck after trauma so you can end the loop of intrusive thoughts, distressing feelings, and avoidance.
Counseling for Trauma

Why some people experience trauma but don’t have PTSD

According to the American Psychiatric Association, a traumatic event happens when you’re “exposed to an actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence”. As examples, being in a serious car accident, child abuse, physical assault, racial threat, rape, a war, or a natural disaster, are traumatic. Learning that a family member or friend experienced something violent or accidental, like suicide or getting killed, is also traumatizing.

Traumas are stressful and make you feel scared or angry. Days after, you might not want to eat, can’t fall asleep or stay sleep, and can’t stop thinking about what happened. Understandably, you’re shaken. You might question how this happened, why this had to happen, or why you responded the way you did. You may still feel intense emotions at the thought of what just happened.

In the weeks that follow, strong feelings (with the exception of grief) and physical symptoms start to fade. Your appetite comes back. You can sleep better. And you’re making some sense of that awful thing that happened. It becomes something you experienced, not something that defines you. And through the help of family and friends, you make peace with it so you can move on.

These reactions are normal. But the prolonged presence of symptoms is abnormal, and this is when someone is diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

One reason some people have PTSD has to do with negative beliefs, developed after the fact. Changes and expectations about yourself, other people, or the world, such as blaming yourself or others for what happened. The second reason you may be stuck relates to how you deal with the reminders. If traumatic triggers like something you see, smell, or hear, for example, take you back to the day you were traumatized, you might try to shut off these thoughts and feelings that follow.

The problem: avoidance and escaping coping strategies stop the natural recovery process.

9 Avoidance Strategies that Create a False Sense of Recovery


Are you avoiding? Let’s look at common avoidance techniques that can impede genuine healing and perpetuate a false sense of well-being in the aftermath of trauma. From burying emotions to numbing through substances, we’ll delve into these strategies, shedding light on their short-term relief and long-term consequences.

1. Lashing out to keep people out and mask feelings of vulnerability or fear

When people feel vulnerable or scared, sometimes they lash out as a way to keep others at arm’s length. It’s like putting up a tough front to protect themselves. By getting angry or hostile, they’re trying to avoid feeling exposed or afraid. But, while it might seem like a quick fix, lashing out can actually push people away and make it harder to get the support they need. It’s like building walls instead of bridges. Learning to deal with those feelings in a healthier way can help build stronger connections and make life a bit smoother.

2. Self-harming to give a false sense of control

When someone has experienced trauma, they may struggle to process their emotions or find healthy outlets for their pain. Self-harm, such as cutting, burning, or other forms of self-injury, can provide a temporary release from emotional pain or numbness, allowing individuals to regain a sense of control over their bodies and emotions. It’s like a quick fix to make things feel a bit better, even if just for a moment. But, in the long run, it can make things worse and leave scars, both inside and out. That’s why it’s important to find healthier ways to deal with tough feelings and get support from someone who can help you through it.

3. Self-medicating to numb the pain creates more problems

For some, substances can provide a way to numb painful feelings or dissociate from traumatic memories, allowing someone to temporarily escape the overwhelming reality of their experiences. The altered state of consciousness induced by substances can create a temporary sense of euphoria or relaxation, providing a respite from emotional distress.

Plus, substance use may serve as a way to self-medicate symptoms of trauma-related conditions such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People may use substances to cope with symptoms such as hypervigilance, intrusive thoughts, or sleep disturbances, seeking relief from the distressing effects of trauma on their mental health.

However, while substance abuse may provide temporary relief, it often exacerbates underlying issues and can lead to a range of negative consequences, including addiction, physical health problems, relationship conflicts, and legal issues. Substance use as a coping mechanism can also perpetuate a cycle of avoidance and denial, preventing individuals from addressing the root causes of their trauma and seeking effective treatment.

4. Changing your relationship with food and body image gives a false sense of comfort and control

When all sorts of heavy emotions like shame, guilt, and self-blame are stirred up, sometimes, to try and cope, people turn to food. They change their relationship with food and body image for comfort and control. This might show up as things like strict dieting, binge eating, or purging. It’s like a temporary escape from all the painful stuff swirling around inside, and it can make you feel like you’re in charge, even when everything else feels chaotic. Focusing on food and weight can help distract from the trauma and all the tough feelings that come with it, at least for a little while. But, in the long run, these coping strategies can cause more harm than good, leading to all sorts of physical and mental health issues.

5. Trying not to think about the thing that you can’t stop thinking about makes it even harder to deal with

Cognitive avoidance is when you deliberately avoid thinking about or confronting distressing thoughts, memories, or emotions associated with your trauma. Instead of facing them, you push them away or try to distract yourself. It’s like pretending it’s not there, even though deep down, you know it is. This can include distracting yourself with other activities, minimizing the significance of the trauma, or engaging in denial about its impact. While it might help you feel better in the moment, in the long run, it can make things even harder to deal with. So, it’s important to find healthier ways to cope and face those tough feelings head-on.

6. Changing your routine or avoiding situations continues to reinforce fear and prevents you from fully engaging in life

Avoiding situations or changing your routine to dodge uncomfortable feelings might give temporary relief, but it actually strengthens those fears over time. See, when you keep avoiding stuff that makes you anxious, your brain learns that those things are dangerous and need to be avoided. This can look like avoiding certain places or people, withdrawing from social activities, or refusing to engage in activities that remind you of the traumatic event or provoke anxiety. It’s driven by a desire to minimize discomfort or prevent the re-emergence of traumatic memories or anxiety symptoms.

It’s also teaching your brain to be even more scared of those situations. So, while it might seem like the easy way out, it actually makes things harder in the long run.

7. Disconnecting from your reality delays healing

Dissociation is when someone feels disconnected from their thoughts, feelings, memories, or surroundings. It’s like zoning out or feeling detached from reality. While it’s a natural defense mechanism that helps people cope with overwhelming or traumatic experiences, it can make it harder to process and recover from trauma in the long run. When someone dissociates, they may avoid confronting painful emotions or memories associated with the trauma, which can delay healing and prevent them from fully processing what happened.

8. Ignoring your negative feelings cuts off ALL emotions, even the good ones and interferes with building meaningful relationships

Emotional suppression is when someone consciously tries to hide or ignore their emotions, particularly negative ones, instead of acknowledging and processing them. While it may provide temporary relief from discomfort or pain, emotional suppression can hinder trauma recovery in several ways.

First, suppressing emotions prevents you from fully processing and understanding their feelings about the traumatic event. This can lead to unresolved emotional distress, which may resurface later on and interfere with healing.

Second, emotional suppression can strain relationships and hinder social support. When individuals suppress their emotions, they may struggle to communicate effectively with others about their experiences and needs. This can create barriers to seeking support from friends, family, or therapists, which is essential for trauma recovery.

Third, emotional suppression can contribute to turning to unhealthy coping strategies to numb or escape their emotions, further complicating the recovery process.

9. Worrying about your physical health without a clear medical cause is distressing and distracting from the core issue

Somatic complaints are physical symptoms or sensations that don’t have a clear medical cause but are often linked to psychological or emotional distress. These can include things like headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, or fatigue.

In terms of trauma recovery, somatic complaints can hinder progress in several ways. First, they can serve as a constant reminder of the trauma, keeping it at the forefront of someone’s mind and making it harder to move on. Second, somatic complaints can be distressing and distracting, making it difficult for someone to focus on their recovery efforts or engage in therapy effectively.

This actually can lead to a cycle of distress and avoidance. When someone experiences physical symptoms, they may become anxious or worried about their health, which can exacerbate their emotional distress. This may lead to avoidance behaviors, such as avoiding activities or situations that trigger physical symptoms, further hindering their ability to confront and process their trauma.

Why therapy is your best chance for long-term recovery

Therapy is often considered the best approach for trauma recovery because it provides a safe and supportive environment for individuals to process and heal from their experiences. Here’s why therapy is often recommended for trauma:

Which is the best therapy for trauma treatment?

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) stands out as a highly effective and less intrusive therapy for treating trauma for several reasons. Firstly, it offers a structured and evidence-based approach that helps you address unhelpful thoughts and beliefs related to their traumatic experiences. By challenging and reframing these negative cognitive patterns, CPT helps reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related conditions.

Secondly, CPT focuses on empowering you to actively engage in your own healing process. Through homework assignments and skill-building exercises, you’ll learn practical strategies to cope with distressing thoughts and emotions, providing them with a sense of agency and control over their recovery.

Furthermore, CPT is generally less intrusive than some other forms of trauma therapy, such as exposure-based therapies. While exposure therapy involves gradually confronting distressing memories or situations, CPT primarily focuses on cognitive restructuring and processing of traumatic experiences through writing assignments and guided discussions.

Overall, Cognitive Processing Therapy offers a well-rounded and less intrusive approach to trauma treatment, making it a preferred choice for many individuals seeking to heal from traumatic experiences.

How long does trauma therapy usually take?

CPT is typically delivered in a relatively short-term format, often consisting of around 12 to 15 sessions. This makes it more accessible and less time-intensive compared to other forms of therapy, while still yielding significant benefits for trauma recovery.

How to get started with me for trauma therapy in MS, TX, or FL

If you’re seeking trauma therapy and live in Mississippi, Texas, or Florida, I’ll highlight steps to get started with me. The first step is to reach out and schedule a complimentary phone consultation with me. During the consultation, we’ll have the opportunity to discuss your experiences, concerns, and goals for therapy.

During the first session, we’ll discuss in more detail your goals for therapy, complete an assessment to determine if you have PTSD, and determine if CPT is the right fit for you.

Throughout our therapeutic work together, you can expect a compassionate and nonjudgmental approach, as well as a commitment to providing you with the support and guidance you need to navigate the challenges of trauma recovery. Together, we’ll work towards empowering you to reclaim your sense of safety, resilience, and well-being, allowing you to move forward with greater confidence and hope. If you’re ready to take the first step towards healing, I’m here to support you every step of the way.

Final thoughts

You can grow beyond what you’ve been through. I wanted to share some lessons below learned from my own healing journeys through grief and traumatic experiences.
Any questions? Check out Ask Dr. Roz. 

Through the storms of trauma, I discovered an inner strength I never knew existed—a resilience that carried me through the darkest of nights and into the light of healing.

Healing taught me that it’s okay to be imperfect, to have scars and flaws, for they are reminders of the battles I’ve fought and the victories I’ve won.

In the process of healing, I found the courage to embrace my true self, unapologetically and authentically, without fear of judgment or rejection.

Healing taught me that vulnerability is not a weakness but a strength—a doorway to deeper connections, empathy, and understanding.

I learned to honor my journey, with all its twists and turns, knowing that every step forward, no matter how small, brings me closer to wholeness and peace.

Healing empowered me to find my voice, to speak my truth, and to advocate for myself and others with unwavering courage and conviction.

Through the pain of trauma, I discovered my purpose—to use my story as a beacon of hope and inspiration, to light the way for others on their healing journey.

Healing is a journey of growth and transformation, a continual process of shedding old wounds and embracing new possibilities.

As I stand here, healed and whole, I embrace the future with open arms, knowing that my past does not define me and that the best is yet to come.

Know that within you lies an incredible reservoir of strength, resilience, and courage. I know this journey may seem daunting, but every step forward, no matter how small, is a testament to your unwavering determination to reclaim your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Not at all. People who ask for help know when they need it and have the courage to reach out. Everyone needs help now and then. In our work together, I’ll help you explore and identify your strengths and how to implement them to reduce the influence of the problems you are facing.

The difference is between someone who can do something, and someone who has the training and experience to do that same thing professionally. A mental health professional can help you approach your situation in a new way– teach you new skills, gain different perspectives, listen to you without judgment or expectations, and help you listen to yourself. Furthermore, counseling is completely confidential. You won’t have to worry about others “knowing my business.” Lastly, if your situation provokes a great deal of negative emotion, and you’ve been confiding in a friend or family member, there is the risk that once you are feeling better you could start avoiding that person so you aren’t reminded of this difficult time in your life.

Medication can be effective but it alone cannot solve all issues. Sometimes medication is needed in conjunction with counseling. Our work together is designed to explore and unpack the problems you are experiencing and expand on your strengths that can help you accomplish your personal goals.

Because each person has different issues and goals for counseling, it will be different depending on the individual. I tailor my therapeutic approach to your specific needs.

Unfortunately, this is not possible to say in a general FAQs page. Everyone’s circumstances are unique to them and the length of time counseling can take to allow you to accomplish your goals depends on your desire for personal development, your commitment, and the factors that are driving you to seek counseling in the first place.

I am so glad you are dedicated to getting the most out of your sessions. Your active participation and dedication will be crucial to your success.

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