Learn / 4 Alternative Therapies for Trauma

4 Alternative Therapies for Trauma

Hannah Friedman
 October 18th, 2022|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Healing from trauma is complicated, and nonlinear. Symptoms can last for years after you get to safety—and they can change over time. What comforts you on a Monday may be triggering on Tuesday. It can be frustrating to feel like you’re not healing fast enough, even when you’re actively trying to get better.

That frustration can be valuable, if you let it motivate you. Healing is, in part, the process of getting to know yourself again. And in rehab for trauma, you can achieve that in any number of ways. You might even experiment with different forms of treatment, until you find the ones that work best for you. These non-traditional therapies can be powerful components of your recovery.

Somatic Healing

Emotional trauma impacts physical health.1 Research even links childhood trauma to heart disease in adults. As a result, experts believe that body-based therapies can support emotional recovery from trauma.2 One study reported that these treatments are “more effective for trauma than currently used cognitive (‘top-down”) and exposure therapies.”

Somatic therapies—or body-based therapies—focus on the mind-body connection. Treatments help you address the trauma stored in both your brain and your body, at the same time.


Studies show that receiving safe, healthy touch can help you process traumatic experiences.3 For example, massage and other types of bodywork may help people heal from the emotional impact of sexual assault.

Trauma and Tension Release Exercises (TRE)

These exercises help patients let go of physical and emotional tension. During a session, you’ll shake your body in a safe, gentle way. Experts say that TRE mimics the natural feeling of shaking in response to trauma.4 And that sensation can “relieve tension, reduce hypervigilance” and increase feelings of well-being. If you’d like to try TRE, make sure you learn it from a trained practitioner. Once you’re comfortable with the exercises, you can also use them as a type of self-care.

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)

Also called tapping, EFT teaches patients to tap on acupressure points5 to relieve stress. Studies show that emotional freedom technique relieves trauma symptoms,6 sometimes completely. EFT can also treat clinical depression and anxiety. 7

Mindfulness-Based Treatments

Mindfulness helps with emotion regulation,8 which is a common issue for trauma survivors. This umbrella term refers to a variety of techniques. Some rehabs offer yoga classes, and others teach you how to meditate. But this approach isn’t right for everyone.

If you have a history of trauma, mindfulness can be triggering. As psychotherapist and trauma researcher David A. Treleaven writes, some patients find “meditation can actually end up exacerbating symptoms of traumatic stress.”9 Researchers caution that mindfulness techniques can “destabilize clients who are particularly prone to flashbacks,10 rumination, or easily triggered trauma memories.”

What works for you might trigger someone else. If you’d like to try healing through mindfulness, make sure to get professional support. These techniques aren’t right for everyone, but some patients find them extremely helpful.


Data supports meditation as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).11 This spiritual practice also has physical health benefits.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

According to experts in mindfulness at Brown University, MBCT “combines training in mindfulness meditation practices with principles from cognitive therapy.”12 Whether you attend 1:1 or group sessions of MBCT,13 your therapist will guide you through meditations and cognitive exercises. You may also have homework between sessions. MBCT can treat the symptoms of PTSD.10

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

In many ways, this therapy is similar to MBCT. For example, you’ll likely go through treatment with a group. But instead of using cognitive therapy, patients learn a wider variety of mindfulness techniques. After about 6 weeks of MBSR, patients go on a brief meditation retreat.14 Experts agree that these mindfulness exercises can relieve trauma symptoms.15

Non-Traditional Talk Therapy

Mindfulness teaches you to focus on the present moment. Other treatments help you understand the past. In some types of talk therapy, patients learn to live with traumatic events. You might describe or even re-experience your most difficult memories. The goal is not to trigger you, but to help you process what happened.

Psychodynamic Therapy

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “psychodynamic therapy focuses on the psychological roots of emotional suffering.”16 Patients work closely with a therapist to get to the root of their symptoms. Short-term psychodynamic therapy17 includes a finite number of 1:1 sessions. Some therapists recommend a much longer treatment program. In that case, you’ll spend the first few sessions free associating, as your therapist gets to know you. Psychodynamic therapy can help with PTSD18 and related conditions, including addiction.

Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET)

By telling your story, you can take control of it. During NET, patients tell the stories of their lives.19 You’ll focus on traumatic memories, and also talk about some positive ones. Your therapist guides you to re-experience painful emotions, but stay in touch with the present moment.

Inner Child Work

This treatment is just what it sounds like—recognizing that a version of your younger self lives on within you. There are countless ways to connect with your inner child.20 For example, you could write them a letter. You can also meditate, picture their face, and start a conversation. It can be especially helpful to ask them simple questions, like “how do you feel?” or “what do you need to feel safe?” This work can bring up repressed feelings and even memories. If you’re new to recovery, it’s best to embark on inner child work with a guide, like a therapist or other professional.

Creative Therapies

Talk therapy can be central to recovery. But it’s not the only way to heal. Creative pursuits help patients unlock deeper emotions and repressed memories. They can also help you release physical, emotional, and even spiritual pain. These therapies empower you to express yourself, working through trauma in the process.

Art Therapy

In art therapy, you’ll create visual art as a way of connecting with your feelings. Sessions may take place 1:1 or in a group setting. By sharing your creations with other people—including your therapist—you practice self-expression. If you enjoy making art, this can become a healthy coping mechanism in the long term. Art can also help you externalize traumatic memories,21 making it easier to live with them.

Music Therapy

Music therapy can alleviate many symptoms of PTSD.22 According to experts, it’s especially helpful for addressing “negative affect and mood alterations.” Because it has such an emotional impact, listening to or playing music may help you regulate your feelings. It can even help outside of therapy sessions. For example, listening to a happy song might help you calm down after being triggered.

Dance Movement Therapy

Experts write that dance therapy “enhances resilience” in trauma survivors.23 There are several reasons for this. For example, dance helps people feel whole by including the body in the process of emotional recovery. As a result, it may reduce dissociative symptoms for people with PTSD. Dance can also build up your confidence. This encourages patients to find joy in the process of healing.

Trauma Recovery on Your Own Terms

Living through trauma changes you. You probably won’t ever return to who you were before. But there’s always a way forward. Recovery is the process of finding the path that works best for you, and takes you exactly where you need to go. With the right kind of treatment, you can build a life you love. And you get to decide what that means.

Find out more about what happens in rehab for trauma recovery, including types of therapy, lengths of stay, housing, and pricing.

Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod

  1. Ho, G. W. K., Karatzias, T., Vallières, F., Bondjers, K., Shevlin, M., Cloitre, M., Ben-Ezra, M., Bisson, J. I., Roberts, N. P., Astill Wright, L., & Hyland, P. (2021). Complex PTSD symptoms mediate the association between childhood trauma and physical health problems. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 142, 110358. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychores.2021.110358 []
  2. Grabbe, L., & Miller-Karas, E. (2018). The trauma resiliency model: A “bottom-up” intervention for trauma psychotherapy. Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, 24(1), 76–84. https://doi.org/10.1177/1078390317745133 []
  3. Strauss, J., & Lang, A. (2012). Complementary and alternative treatments for ptsd. PTSD Research Quarterly, 23(2), 2–7. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/publications/rq_docs/v23n2.pdf []
  4. Case report of a former soldier using tre (Tension/trauma releasing exercises) for posttraumatic stress disorder self-care. (n.d.). JMVH. Retrieved from https://jmvh.org/article/case-report-of-a-former-soldier-using-tre-tension-trauma-releasing-exercises-for-posttraumatic-stress-disorder-self-care/ []
  5. Flint, G. A., Lammers, W., & Mitnick, D. G. (2006). Emotional freedom techniques. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 12(1–2), 125–150. https://doi.org/10.1300/J146v12n01_07 []
  6. Church, D., Hawk, C., Brooks, A., Toukolehto, O., Wren, M., Dinter, I., & Stein, P. (2013). Psychological Trauma Symptom Improvement in Veterans Using Emotional Freedom Techniques. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 201(2), 153–160. https://doi.org/10.1097/NMD.0b013e31827f6351 []
  7. Bach, D., Groesbeck, G., Stapleton, P., Sims, R., Blickheuser, K., & Church, D. (2019). Clinical eft (Emotional freedom techniques) improves multiple physiological markers of health. Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine, 24, 2515690X18823691. https://doi.org/10.1177/2515690X18823691 []
  8. Lee, M. Y., Eads, R., & Hoffman, J. (2022). “I felt it and i let it go”: Perspectives on meditation and emotional regulation among female survivors of interpersonal trauma with co-occurring disorders. Journal of Family Violence, 37(4), 629–641. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-021-00329-7 []
  9. SoP. (2018, January 28). Is mindfulness safe for trauma survivors? The Science of Psychotherapy. https://www.thescienceofpsychotherapy.com/is-mindfulness-safe-for-trauma-survivors/ []
  10. Boyd, J. E., Lanius, R. A., & McKinnon, M. C. (2018). Mindfulness-based treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder: A review of the treatment literature and neurobiological evidence. Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience : JPN, 43(1), 7–25. https://doi.org/10.1503/jpn.170021
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  12. What is mindfulness based cognitive therapy? | mindfulness center | brown university. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.brown.edu/public-health/mindfulness/ideas/what-mindfulness-based-cognitive-therapy []
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  14. Boyd, J. E., Lanius, R. A., & McKinnon, M. C. (2018). Mindfulness-based treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder: A review of the treatment literature and neurobiological evidence. Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience : JPN, 43(1), 7–25. https://doi.org/10.1503/jpn.170021 []
  15. Khatib, L., Riegner, G., Dean, J. G., Oliva, V., Cruanes, G., Mulligan, B. A., & Zeidan, F. (2022). The effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on trauma in victims of gun violence: A pilot study. Mindfulness, 13(4), 1032–1041. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-022-01858-yfOctober []
  16. Psychodynamic psychotherapy brings lasting benefits through self-knowledge. (n.d.). Https://Www.Apa.Org. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2010/01/psychodynamic-therapy []
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  22. Landis-Shack, N., Heinz, A. J., & Bonn-Miller, M. O. (2017). Music therapy for posttraumatic stress in adults: A theoretical review. Psychomusicology, 27(4), 334–342. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5744879/ []
  23. Martinec, R. (2018). Dance movement therapy in the wider concept of trauma rehabilitation. Journal of Trauma and Rehabilitation. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327418865_Dance_Movement_Therapy_in_the_Wider_Concept_of_Trauma_Rehabilitation []

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