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How to become a therapist for trauma

According to research, up to 70 percent of adults will experience traumatic events in their lives and about 20 percent will develop trauma-related responses to those events. If you wish to help them, you should learn how to become a trauma therapist.

Trauma physically changes our brains. According to trauma psychologists and therapists, areas of our brains that once worked normally can begin to work in a different way due to the effects of trauma. 

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For example, the ‘amygdala’, the component located deep within the two hemispheres of the brain which controls emotional responses, can become hyperactive following a traumatic event. 

If you’re interested in a medical career that explores how trauma impacts people and want to bring relief to those patients, then a career in trauma therapy will be ideal. In this article, we will cover everything about trauma therapists and how you can become one.

What Is Trauma Therapy?

Trauma therapy is a process that helps people live an empowering and fulfilling life following a traumatic experience. As mentioned, trauma physically changes the functioning of the brain and causes unusual reactions to triggers.

Those triggers often leave deep psychological issues for a human being. Trauma counseling is evidence-based counseling for both children and adults who have been through trauma. A therapist will address the needs of their patients and aid them in achieving relief from their symptoms.

The therapy sessions are completely personalized and potential solutions are tailored for the individual patient. Professionals in trauma therapy work on trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy.

What Does a Trauma Therapist Do?

The job of a trauma therapist is to conduct psychotherapy sessions to help patients overcome traumatic stress. The goal of the therapy sessions is to enable the patient to live a better and fulfilled life. 

The effects of trauma can last several years after the event has occurred. To overcome trauma, a therapist helps their patients to heal and become better through the use of psychotherapy. A therapist can conduct talk therapy to assist those experiencing trauma. 

A trauma therapist does three basic things for their patients; listen, diagnose, and develop a plan. These steps aim to help the patient live a healthy and normal life again.

Below is a detailed list of what the duties of a trauma therapist consist of. 

Helps You Understand the Situation

Trauma patients usually are in a constant battle with their issues. A trauma therapist helps their patients understand themselves and the situation to enable them to regain power and control. As the therapist, it is your duty to ensure the patient understands where their issues stem from. 

Diagnoses the Issue

Trauma comes with various psychological consequences. Patients can have a variety of symptoms including, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and many other issues. It is the therapist’s job to successfully identify the issue and diagnose it. A therapist is expected to diagnose the problem by understanding the symptoms and being trauma-informed. 

Provides a Solution

This is one of the most important duties of a trauma therapist. Patients come to you to get solutions for their ongoing trauma. Along with diagnosing the issue, you are expected to provide solutions for it. The solutions usually focus on three types of therapies.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Prolonged Exposure (PE), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). These therapies are used to reduce the patient’s trauma symptoms. 

Offers Long Term Solutions to Prevent Future Effects

A therapist’s job isn’t simply providing immediate solutions, they are expected to offer long-term and sustainable solutions to their patients. Their duties lie in equipping patients with positive skills and strategies.

Those skills are designed to prevent any future psychological deterioration and help the patient cope with stressful situations. This is done by conducting several more therapy sessions after the patient has been provided with a short term solution.

Sets Boundaries and Limits

As a therapist, you will get involved with patients who struggle with emotional boundaries. So your duties lie in knowing and understanding those boundaries. You will need to set up limits that dictate your therapist and patient relationship. 

Those rules must be highly professional and ethical. That includes not having an unhealthy or even a romantic relationship with your patient. You are also expected to explain and establish the nature of the counseling sessions from day one of the therapy. 

You can also research how to become a counselor to help you perform trauma treatment better.

Essential Trauma Therapist Skills

Becoming a trauma therapist requires extensive medical skills. It is very important that you have the skills required to do your job. This profession deals with very important aspects of a person’s life. Below are some of the most essential skills a trauma therapist needs to possess. 

Empathy Skills

Empathy is your ability to understand and recognize another person’s feelings as if you were going through them yourself. As a trauma therapist, you’ll need to learn how to emotionally attune to your client’s needs so you can help them articulate or understand their feelings.

Also as a trauma therapist, you will meet different patients with different psychological issues and solution preferences. So, as a highly empathetic therapist, you’ll be able to identify and understand these feelings.

Listening Skills 

This is one of the most important skills to possess as a therapist regardless of the niche. You will need to actively listen to your client to identify and remember important details and feelings that they communicate to you. You should also be able to look out for the subtle emotions that the patient doesn’t clearly communicate.

Having good listening skills is helpful in every profession, but it is particularly necessary with therapy. Without listening, you might not be able to observe certain signs and miss out on the important details. 

This might lead you to diagnose a patient incorrectly, which isn’t just unprofessional it is unethical. You can also read articles and other helpful resources on how to become a therapist to improve your listening skills. 

Critical Thinking Skills 

As a trauma therapist, you need to have the ability to think critically when making diagnoses and be able to switch plans and techniques. You might encounter some difficulties in the process of administering treatment to your patient, as your first treatment plan may not always work.

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On that note, you should be able to question what works and what doesn’t work to better help your patient. Despite this, having critical skills will enable you to ask the tough questions and get the information an ordinary therapist may have missed. You get to dig below the surface to discover what lies beneath the obvious. 

Communication Skills 

During the first few sessions of therapy, your patient might not be so comfortable with you because they do not know you well. If you have good communication skills, you’ll be able to foster a good relationship with the patient. How else would you be able to make progress with a patient that is not comfortable around you?

Strong communication skills can even help you make a person comfortable talking with you. People tend to like and communicate with people they are comfortable with, so if you’re good with communication your clients will see you as confident and competent. Thereby helping you understand them better.

Problem-Solving Skills 

As a trauma therapist, you need to be ready to face your patient’s problems head-on. In this job, you’ll meet many tough challenges and you will have to be resilient. You will need to be able to provide solutions to the issues your patients are dealing with. Without problem-solving skills, it is nearly impossible for you to succeed in this career.

Trauma Therapist Salaries and Job Outlook

According to Indeed, the average annual pay for a trauma therapist is $60,000 with a possibility of it increasing in the future. As of December 2020, the average annual pay for a Trauma Therapist in the US is $76,704 according to Ziprecruiter, which also notes that some Post Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD) therapists earn an average of $115,392 per year. 

While some therapists earn less, if you open a private practice, you’ll earn more than the annual average income and increase your earning capacity. Research also shows the demand for trauma therapists generally will increase by 12 percent by 2022. This is due to the increasing number of patients in the US. 

How Long Does it Take to Become a Trauma Therapist?

The career of a trauma therapist is related to that of a psychologist. To work as a trauma therapist, you’ll need to study for a four-year degree in a related field. You can get a bachelor’s in psychology or social work, then proceed to specialize in trauma therapy in graduate school.

This will mean getting a master’s degree in trauma therapy, which takes around two to three years. You can also choose to get a master’s degree in counseling and then get trained as a trauma therapist at your place of employment. You can also pursue a doctoral degree in this field, but this degree is usually earned by those interested in research. 

How to Become a Trauma Therapist: A Step-by-Step Guide

It is vital to follow the necessary steps to build a career in trauma therapy. Just having good soft skills like communication and listening skills aren’t enough for this psychological field. Below are the steps you should take on this career path.

Step 1: Get a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree

You will first need to acquire a bachelor’s degree in psychology, counseling, social science, or any other related field. Then proceed to get a master’s degree in a field specific to trauma therapy. It all depends on the state, but most states will need their health professionals to have a master’s degree and a minimum of two years of experience.

Step 2: Get Trained 

The next step is to get trained in trauma therapy. You need to acquire all the essential therapist skills mentioned in the skills section above. Apply for internships after getting your master’s degree to attain those skills. It is very important for a trauma therapist to be trained as you deal with a lot of practical issues rather than theoretical ones. 

Step 3: Get Licensed 

After completing the above steps, you will need to apply for a mental health professional license in your respective states. In most states, you will need to pass a graduate degree program, complete a licensing test, and work as an intern under supervision. The license will prove your skill set and help you become a trauma therapist. 

Required Education to Become a Trauma Therapist

 A person crying beside a bed A person crying beside a bedTrauma therapists help their patients battle mental health struggles. 

To work as a trauma therapist you are required to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. However, most hospitals will require you to have a master’s degree in your field of specialty and a minimum of two years of working experience. A trauma therapist will also undergo an internship to gain field experience.

Best Programs and Courses to Become a Trauma Therapist

We recommend attending a program accredited by The Council for Accreditation of Counselling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Those programs will make it easier for you to become a Licensed Professional Counsellor (LPC).

However, if you are new to trauma therapy we recommend enrolling in online courses to understand some foundations of the subject. 

  • Provider: Class Central
  • Cost: Free
  • Prerequisite: N/A
  • Time: 4 weeks, 4 hours/week

As a trauma therapist, you are expected to understand and treat a wide variety of trauma and mental illnesses. This course by Class Central will help you understand PTSD and its trauma on mental health. You will learn the symptoms, causes, and treatment of PTSD. 

  • Provider: Udemy
  • Cost: $129.99 
  • Prerequisite: N/A
  • Time: 12 hours of on-demand videos 

Many trauma therapists specialize in family trauma and this Udemy course will teach you just that. This is a certification course that teaches how to identify and treat family traumas. To pass this course, you must learn to understand individual and group traumas. 

  • Provider: Udemy
  • Cost: $129.99 
  • Prerequisite: N/A
  • Time: 6.5 hours of on-demand videos 

This is another course that covers PTSD understanding and treatment. You will learn the frameworks and terminologies surrounding PTSD. Overall, the course prepares you with the skills needed to advance your career as a PTSD trauma therapist.

After completing these courses, you must earn a mental health professional license, which is different according to the state requirements. 

Trauma Therapy Certificates

Certifications are a great way to highlight your skill set and ensure good job opportunities. There are no specific trauma therapy certifications but you can get certified in many mental health processes.

As trauma therapy is an evidence-based treatment, there are many treatment methods available for you to get certified in. These certifications will help you master the professional standard of trauma therapy. 

The clinical trauma professional certification tests your advanced understanding of clinical trauma therapy. You must know to identify the type of trauma and provide evidence-based treatments. To pass this certification, you must score 88 percent or more and attend CCTP training. 

Licensed trauma therapists engage in cognitive behavioral therapy to treat PTSD and other trauma. This certification program is for those enrolled in graduate programs looking for accredited certifications. To be accepted into the program, you must have at least 2,000 hours of clinical experience. 

Should You Become a Trauma Therapist in 2021?

Now is a great time to become a trauma therapist. It is a growing field that shows many promising employment opportunities. It can be a fulfilling career where you can help patients live a life without any traumatic stress.

Moreover, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall employment of psychologists is projected to grow by 14 percent from 2016 to 2026. That is twice the growth rate for all occupations over the same period. So, it is the best time to join this psychological field.

Trauma Therapy FAQ

What is the best therapy for trauma? 

The therapy treatments for trauma depend on the psychological troubles. There is behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, and even hypnotherapy. As a trauma therapist, you need to be aware of what treatment works best for your patient’s situation. 

How long does it take to treat trauma?

The duration of trauma therapy is completely personal. It depends on the patient’s state of mind, symptoms, and reactions to the treatments. Psychological conditions such as PTSD can take around 15-20 sessions to show progress. 

What are the three main types of trauma?

People usually suffer from these three types of traumas: Acute, Chronic, and Complex trauma. All these traumas stem from different incidents and psychological scars. Therapists are equipped to deal with all these different types of traumas. 

What are the duties of a trauma therapist?

As a trauma therapist, your role is to understand symptoms, identify, and treat trauma. You are expected to help your patient understand their triggers and successfully combat them.  

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