A quick Internet search will reveal many new approaches claiming to be a panacea, or 'magic bullet,' that will reset the traumatized, over-stressed brain. Many seem too good to be true. Other approaches boast they follow time-honored traditions with a seal of approval known as "evidence-based practice." An evidence-based practice or EBP simply means there are a sufficient number of research studies that support the effectiveness of that treatment approach. Such an emphasis diminishes the value of promising new treatments simply because new treatments haven't had sufficient time to generate an adequate number of studies to support them yet.
So who is right? Is it better to follow the new and cutting edge methods; or is it better to follow the tried and true methods? Well, the truth lies somewhere in the middle between these two approaches. No magic bullet exists. There is no single treatment modality that works equally well for everyone. Rather, there are many possible interventions, both the time-honored and the innovative, that can help people heal. In searching for a clinical practitioner, try to remember that you are doing the hiring. The therapist works for you. Therefore, you can explore what works best for you. Many trauma survivors find it's actually a combination of therapeutic approaches that helped them to heal. Furthermore, this healing takes place overtime in a non-linear manner.
Holly is a complex trauma survivor in her late twenties. She learned having a therapist with an eclectic or integrated approach worked very well for her. Holly had struggled with self-injury, disordered eating, and suicidal ideation/attempts over the years. She clearly met the criteria for a traumatic childhood. Later, she was shuffled in and out of the mental health system for many years before finding a good therapist.
In previous treatments, Holly was simply medicated, and 'received' very directive types of treatment. At age 18, Holly met a new therapist. For Holly, this was the first professional that truly validated the terms abuse and trauma as central to her story. Lacking this validation, Holly often left therapy sessions believing that there was something inherently wrong with her. Working with this new therapist allowed Holly to reframe much of her distress through the lens of "I am responding to what happened to me," not "There is something fundamentally wrong with me." Additionally, Holly's therapist was able to work with her using a combination of several different theories and techniques to best meet Holly where she was at coming into treatment. Holly thought her therapist's eclectic nature works well because the therapist can be more flexible. This allowed the therapist to accommodate Holly's changing needs as her recovery progressed.
Some people, like Holly, choose to remain in long-term treatment with one therapist. Others are able to heal quite well with only a brief engagement in professional treatment, followed by an aftercare plan for continued lifestyle wellness. As we will soon see, other people like Heather Bowser (whom we introduced earlier) can enjoy a productive and meaningful life, without any professional intervention at all.
Heather Bowser is the child of a Vietnam veteran, and co-founder of Children of Vietnam Health Alliance. She was born with one leg as the result of her father's Agent Orange exposure. She struggled throughout her childhood but her physical disability was only one of her obstacles. Living with her father's PTSD and his alcoholic behavior further complicated her home life. Heather also struggled with enuresis (bed-wetting) throughout her childhood.
As she told me, the camaraderie she shared with her peers in her high school band offered her the first signs of hope and a sense of belonging. In college, her artistic talents again provided outlets for healing. During a senior art project, she painted a mural depicting her heart-breaking story of living with her father. Her mural captured their collective story of trauma and survival. Although Heather has never participated in therapy, her creative expression, as well as her advocacy work for other children of Vietnam veterans, allowed her to thrive. She is now a mother, a mental health therapist specializing in trauma, and a business owner.