Using DBT Therapy to Heal from Trauma

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Did you know that dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can help people with a trauma history?

If you have trouble dealing with unfortunate events that happened to you, then you may have unresolved trauma that you need to deal with to move on to the more fulfilling life you deserve.

That is where DBT therapy can come in. DBT was designed to get clients out of feeling terrible all the time and build a better life for themselves.

There is a lot to know about DBT therapy, and how putting it into practice each day can help a person move on from trauma that has weighed them down.

We will go over trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, DBT therapy techniques, what is behind DBT therapy, and how a person with a trauma history can implement DBT therapy into their daily life.

Continue reading to learn about how DBT therapy can help a person move on from trauma.

Coping Skills Therapists in Colorado

Winnie Siwa, LPCC

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Colorado
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Jennifer Luttman, LPC, ACS

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Colorado
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Sarah Munk, LPC

Colorado
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Sarah Tapia, LPCC

Sarah Tapia, LPCC

Colorado
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Melody Reynalds, LPC

Melody Reynalds, LPC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
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Alex Wiley, LPC

Alex Wiley, LPC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
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Jacquelynne Sils, LPC

Jacquelynne Sils, LPC

Colorado
(719) 696-3439
Sarah Webster, SWC

Sarah Webster, SWC

Colorado
(719) 696-3439
Stephanie Kol, LPCC

Stephanie Kol, LPCC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 203-7021
Katie (Kate) Castillo, MS, LPCC

Katie (Kate) Castillo, MS, LPCC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 345-2424

What is Trauma?

If someone has experienced a horrible event like a natural disaster, rape, or an accident, then they have experienced trauma.

Other events could include military combat experiences, unexpected family or friend deaths, and automobile accidents.

Denial and shock are typical right after the event. Over time, people may have reactions that are even physical symptoms, like nausea or headache.

Other reactions include strained relationships, flashbacks, and unpredictable emotions.

People may feel unsafe in the world, and feel that at any time catastrophe could strike.

Some people experience chronic trauma, where events happen over and over, like if they are constantly abused or bullied.

The amygdala, which is in the brain and detects threats, is activated in a traumatic event.

Many people have issues moving on after trauma, and that's where mental health professionals come in. 

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

We will talk about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because many people with trauma histories find themselves with this diagnosis.

Once a traumatic event has been experienced, this stress- and trauma-related disorder may evolve.

If a person has PTSD, then they may have serious trouble functioning. Symptoms can last from just one month to many years.

It is common and can affect adults, adolescents, and children. 


What is behind DBT Therapy?

Marsha Linehan founded DBT, and put together the widely-used DBT Skills Training Manual published by Guilford Press.

As indicated above, DBT stands for "dialectical behavior therapy." Let us break that down a bit. What does dialectical mean?

It comes from dialectics, which comes from philosophy and means to bring together opposites.

In DBT therapy, one is encouraged to look at things from different and new perspectives.

Dialectics also means that two opposite things can be true simultaneously.

Linehan also implemented the biosocial theory into DBT therapy. This theory says that biological, social, and environmental factors can contribute to mental health issues.

Although designed for borderline personality disorder patients, DBT has proven to be invaluable to people perhaps without that diagnosis but still have trauma to work through.

DBT Therapy Techniques Important for Trauma

One important technique is mindfulness. It increases awareness of the current moment, including triggers and feelings, with no judgment.

Another is distress tolerance. People need to learn to tolerate stress to avoid worsening a situation.

With emotional regulation, we can effectively manage emotions. Feelings are never wrong.

We decide how to respond to them, though, and how we do that can be powerful.

Then there is exposure and response prevention. This cuts down on unwanted behaviors and unhealthy responses.

When you go to individual therapy, you can safely practice exposure to prepare for unavoidable triggers.

Opposite action is also important. This means reacting differently than how you really want to when your negative emotions creep in.

Validation is also key. If someone with a trauma history questions their own reality, this is a skill to use.

Pain and stress can feel too difficult to tolerate because of trauma, and that is why validation is important.

Through DBT a person who has been significantly impacted by trauma will practice self-acceptance.

This does not mean it is okay to have been traumatized; it means that your pain need not always mean suffering and that you can overcome the trauma by taking control.


Using DBT for Work, Relationships and Leisure

Someone with a trauma history may find it difficult to produce at work and perform well.

The pressure has been on to adhere to workplace demands, however, it can seem impossible to move forward.

Through DBT therapy, a person with a trauma history could form a perception change.

That could be really useful. Depending on what is going on at work, a therapist may suggest a different perspective on work to help the client go back to a healthier mental space.

If your trauma is unresolved, then relationships will go downhill at some point.

A person needs to put in commitment and work to rewire the brain to see what are actual threats.

For example, if you just began a new romantic relationship, someone with a relationship trauma history may be waiting for physical or psychological abuse to happen if that is what happened to them before.

In terms of leisure, it is hard for people with trauma histories to sit down and enjoy themselves.

People with trauma histories can often be startled and unable to calm down.

For example, if someone was assaulted while they were on a walk, then they will work with a DBT therapist to validate their feelings, as well as activate the concept of a wise mind to prevent constantly living in fear.

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Conclusion

Serious trauma is part of many people's lives.

Conflict and tension are often part of life, however, people with trauma histories that impact their daily lives could benefit from mental health treatment, and DBT therapy in particular.

DBT therapy has its history, and although put together to treat borderline personality disorder it has been helpful for people with PTSD and other diagnoses and issues.

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May 18th, 2024

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