Learn / What Happens in Residential Rehab for Trauma?

What Happens in Residential Rehab for Trauma?

Hannah Friedman
 December 30th, 2022|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Key Points

  • Trauma-informed rehab programs are sensitive to clients' histories of trauma.
  • Residential rehab provides professional and peer support in a safe setting.
  • A range of therapies are designed specifically to treat trauma.

Rehab isn’t just for addiction recovery. That’s a common reason to start treatment, but it’s not the only one. You can also go to rehab to heal from trauma.

Defining Trauma

Traumatic events don’t always cause trauma symptoms.1 The same event that leaves you with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)2 could be annoying but forgettable for someone else. Certain qualities can make you more vulnerable to developing symptoms. Specifically, people who have a history of childhood trauma, mental health issues, or addiction may be at higher risk.  

Trauma Symptoms

Everyone reacts to trauma differently. But there are a few common effects you might experience after a traumatic event:3

  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Emotional numbness
  • Loss of hope
  • Fear

These are often short-term reactions in the immediate aftermath of the event. But for some people, they become ongoing symptoms. If that’s the case, you can ask your doctor to evaluate you for PTSD.  

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD is a prolonged reaction4 to a finite traumatic experience. This could be a single event, like a car accident, or a period of time, like a tour of duty in the military. Symptoms of PTSD include the following:

  • Flashbacks 
  • Sleep problems like nightmares
  • Avoidance, where you stay away from reminders of your trauma
  • Feeling tense
  • Angry outbursts
  • Loss of interest in your passions

To fit the criteria for PTSD, these symptoms need to last for more than a month and interfere with your quality of life. 

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Chronic trauma can lead to complex PTSD5 (c-PTSD), instead of PTSD. The 2 conditions are similar, but with a few key differences. Unlike PTSD, c-PTSD is the response to long-term circumstances. For example, teens or adults who survived child abuse might show signs of c-PTSD. 

In addition to the symptoms of classic PTSD, people with c-PTSD may also experience the following: 

  • Dysregulated emotions
  • A negative self-image
  • Difficulty forming and maintain healthy relationships

While treatment for these diagnoses is similar, c-PTSD can cause additional challenges. 

Co-occurring Trauma and Addiction

Studies indicate a strong link between addiction and traumatic experiences.6 There are several reasons for this. Drugs and alcohol can offer a temporary distraction from the pain of trauma. Or, you might decide to self-medicate in order to manage your symptoms. 

It’s all too easy to get caught in a cycle of trauma and addiction. That’s true for a few reasons. First, drug and alcohol use can make your mental health worse. And second, addiction itself can be traumatic. You might find yourself in dangerous situations because of the way you obtain or take drugs. Those experiences can compound your trauma. But without support, drug use might be the only way you know how to manage your symptoms.

Explore Trauma Treatment Centers

What Happens in Rehab for Trauma?

If you’re having a hard time healing on your own, you might benefit from residential treatment. There, you’ll have the time and space to focus on healing, instead of just surviving. 

What is Trauma-Informed Care?

Trauma-informed rehab programs provide treatment in a safe and empowering way. Clinicians are sensitive to your concerns, and may have special training in trauma recovery.

Trauma symptoms can put you on high alert,7 even if there isn’t any danger. The tranquility of a trauma-informed treatment center can help you stay centered. For example, you might attend therapy in a soundproof room, so there’s a lower chance of loud noises. Or, your massage therapist might ask for consent before starting every session.

This type of care accommodates your needs, but it won’t insulate you from all your triggers. Instead, you’ll learn how to navigate them while keeping yourself safe. Rehab gives you the chance to practice new coping skills before you reenter a less curated environment. 

A Framework for Recovery

While you can heal from your trauma in an outpatient setting, going to residential treatment offers unique benefits. For example, keeping a consistent schedule helps people with PTSD feel safe.8 And when you attend inpatient treatment, your days will have a set routine. It’s common for people to feel overwhelmed after trauma,9 so taking a break from making certain decisions can be a relief. That way, you can focus on your recovery, instead of what you’re going to have for dinner.

A Calming Environment

It’s much harder to heal in the same place where you got hurt. If your trauma happened close to home, a change of scenery might be necessary for recovery. Studies even show that changing your environment can improve your mood.10 

If you travel for rehab, you can choose your ideal location. And some environments make healing even easier. Specifically, living in the midst of nature can help you process your thoughts11 and cope with stress. 

Social Support During Treatment

Trauma can be isolating.12 And when your symptoms interfere with relationships, it’s hard to ask for the help you need. Many residential rehabs offer a built-in community13 of patients with a similar experience of trauma. Some programs even cater to people with shared identities, like LGBTQ+ patients. And studies show that having robust social support can help your recovery14 from trauma. 

Specific Therapies for Trauma 

Everyone’s healing process is different. That’s why so many luxury rehabs offer personalized care. During inpatient treatment for trauma, you can access several different types of therapy in the same program. This empowers patients to take control of the healing process, under the expert guidance of their care team.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular treatment for trauma symptoms.15 In session, patients learn to recognize and work through thought patterns that no longer serve them. This is easiest to understand with triggers. For example, after an accident, you might feel intense fear about getting into a car. CBT can help you put that feeling in context. Instead of avoiding cars altogether, you could learn how to calmly assess whether it’s safe to drive. And then, additional CBT skills can help you stay centered while you’re on the road.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy 

Prolonged exposure therapy (PE)16 is a type of CBT. In PE, you’ll confront your trauma head-on. Patients do this by recounting their most painful memories in great detail. As you tell the story of what happened, your therapist may encourage you to engage your 5 senses. What did the room smell like? What noises did you hear? How did your body feel?

PE isn’t easy. The goal is to trigger yourself, purposely causing an intense emotional response. But as you return to the same memory over and over again, you’ll become desensitized to it. Eventually, you’ll be able to think about what happened without feeling triggered at all. 

If you’re healing from complex trauma, you may need to repeat this process with a few different memories. Over time, PE helps patients regulate their feelings in and outside of sessions. 

Cognitive Processing Therapy

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)17 helps you address the emotional fallout of trauma. With a therapist’s guidance, you’ll explore the way you feel about what happened. Early in treatment, you’ll write a trauma impact statement.18 There, you’ll describe why you think your trauma happened, and list its lasting effects on your life. Then, you’ll recount a traumatic experience and talk through the way it makes you feel. 

While this process is a lot like PE, the goal is a little different. Instead of desensitizing yourself, you’ll work to understand why you feel the way you do. For example, self-blame is a common response to trauma.19 If you feel guilty about what happened, you might practice self-compassion during CPT. You’ll also learn how to cope with the triggers you encounter in daily life. 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)20 uses visual or audio cues to help you process your trauma. First, you’ll learn more about trauma and coping skills. Then, you’ll identify a “target” traumatic event. For about 30 seconds, you’ll focus on that target as you pay attention to an external cue. 

Studies indicate that EMDR helps patients reduce anxiety and other PTSD symptoms. But it can also be emotionally taxing to concentrate on your trauma. You might feel triggered or vulnerable after a session. But in residential treatment, you won’t have to jump right back into other tasks after EMDR.  

Holistic Therapies for Survivors

Trauma affects more than just your mental health. For example, trauma can cause physical pain,21 or interrupt your spiritual practice. Holistic therapies address all parts of your life,22 and help you heal in an integrated way. There are several different types of holistic treatment

These methods aren’t replacements for talk therapy, but they can work well as complementary therapies. In rehab, you can combine holistic treatments with more traditional techniques. 

What Are the Stages of Trauma Recovery?

No matter what therapy you use, it still takes time to heal from trauma. And healing is nonlinear. As you grow and change, your feelings about what happened might change, too. For example, some people have trauma from romantic relationships. They might feel completely healed—while they’re single. But then new triggers might come up when they start dating again. 

While everyone’s process is different, experts describe 5 distinct stages of trauma recovery.23 You might progress through these in order, or all at once. You might even revisit some stages more than once. But as you heal, it’s likely that you’ll touch on these different perspectives.

Trauma Processing and Reexamination

Processing your trauma is an important part of recovery. Therapies like CBT and PE help you understand the effects of what happened to you. By working through your past triggers, you can focus on the present, and start to build a meaningful future. Living on-site in a rehab program helps you focus on healing, without the distractions of daily life.

Managing Negative States

During rehab, you’ll learn more sustainable coping strategies. And when you encounter triggers, your care team will likely be on hand to help you practice them. As you develop those skills, you can let go of any behavior—like addiction—that doesn’t support your growth.

Rebuilding the Self After Trauma

Trauma can make you feel disconnected24 from yourself. During rehab, you can rebuild your confidence and self-esteem. There are several ways to work toward that goal. Holistic therapies, for instance, can help you reintegrate different parts of your identity. 

Connecting With Others

Trauma affects the way you relate to other people.25 And no one exists in a vacuum. On the contrary, healthy relationships are vital to recovery. There are countless ways to approach this part of healing. You might connect with other patients, or join a support group. But those options don’t work for everyone. Some high-profile clients, for instance, may need confidentiality during rehab. If privacy is a priority, you might consider family therapy with your closest loved ones.

Regaining Hope and Power

After you survive trauma, serious danger stops being theoretical. You know from personal experience that getting hurt is a real possibility. It’s happened before, and it might happen again. Recovery means learning to live a rich, beautiful life in the face of that uncertainty. Treatment can help you regain your power and hope for the future. 

Compare luxury rehabs that treat trauma and reach out to them directly to learn how you can get started on your healing journey.

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