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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Powers, LMFT

How to pick a trauma therapist?

Updated: Jul 28, 2019

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder? Or known someone who has had PTSD?

The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) defines PTSD as: “Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence”.

This may occur by either directly experiencing the violence, witnessing the event, or learning about the event that occurred to a family member or close friend.

Symptoms of PTSD:

ANXIETY ATTACKS, yes, they can last hours sometimes

Recurrent, involuntary memories of the event, flashbacks

Not Sleeping

Racing heart

Inability to remember the details of the event

High Blood pressure

Anger, guilt, shame, or horror


Exaggerated startle response

Concentration impairment


Professional MD’s will want to medicate you. Yoga teachers with want you to meditate. AND, then, there are those therapists, the ones who “specialize in trauma”.

Within the last year, I, myself went thru a traumatic event, which caused me to develop PTSD. I searched for a therapist who could get me thru this maze of feelings. I learned A LOT about therapy. What works and what does not work. I thought I knew about trauma therapy from my training. Boy, was I wrong.

Here are some tips for finding a good trauma therapist.

1. Has the therapist ever experienced PTSD?

I called several therapists, and I am a therapist. Some would tell me that they knew how to deal with trauma. When I got in the session I could see they had no clue, even though, they advertised themselves as a trauma therapist. When I asked them if they had every experienced a trauma they would say no. And I could tell. I think the best trauma therapists have personally experienced some degree of PTSD.

2. Be aware of the power differential.

There is a concept in our field called “power differential”. This applies to an unethical stand when the therapist places herself or himself in greater power than the client. This is a dangerous place to be in. Well, I found myself in that place as the client. One therapist that I visited took my phone and pulled up the pictures of the traumatic event and proceeded to show me the pictures. Her form of therapy was to make me relive the incident. WRONG!!! I recognized this and left the session. The last thing I wanted to do was revisit the scene of the crime. My anxiety was raging after that session.

The hardest part of PTSD was that I could not control when the anxiety/panic attacks would hit me. That session made it worse.

3. Know your triggers.

I tried all the forms of “trauma therapy”. Some advertise that they are trauma specialists and do therapy that is specific to trauma, called EMDR, and SE. Insurance will not pay for these forms of therapy …… so you must pay cash. Honestly, I found little relief from these sessions.

The best form of therapy is TIME. As time passed, I got better. I have learner a lot about my triggers. I avoid the triggers.

4. Set strong boundaries.

What really amazed me, people were so curious, not considering my feeling, and would proceed to ask many questions about the event. I would have to set strong boundaries and just tell them, “I prefer not to discuss it”.

In summary, when you pick a therapist for your trauma, ask them if they themselves have experience in recovering from trauma. Be aware of the power differential, because you are very vulnerable at this time, avoid the triggers, and set healthy boundaries with the people around you.

Disclaimer: This is my own personal experience. If you're currently experiencing PTSD, and you have found treatment plan that's working for you, stick with it.

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