If you’ve been through a scary event or stressful situation, you may have a lot of confusing or even overwhelming feelings connected to it.
This is called trauma, and it can include anything from abuse to bullying to homelessness to the death of a loved one. Trauma is common, but that doesn’t mean that dealing with it is easy. To help, many people decide to see a counselor for trauma therapy.
When left untreated, trauma can impact survivors in lots of different ways for years afterward. You may feel anxious, depressed, angry or confused, or have flashbacks or nightmares. These are all normal responses to an abnormal event, but you don’t have to try to deal with them alone. There are many effective treatments for trauma symptoms.
As a Primary Care Social Worker at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, I work with teens and young adults every day who have been through trauma. Many of them have a lot of misconceptions about therapy. Often, those misconceptions kept them from getting help sooner.
If you or a young person you know has been through trauma, knowing that these myths are in fact, well, myths, can be a huge help in beginning therapy and the healing process. Here are the 7 most common myths my clients have heard.
1. I’ll have to talk about the trauma—a lot.
Talking about trauma can be painful and triggering, and feel impossible. This can make people feel like they’re in a double-bind: “I can’t talk about my trauma, and if I don’t talk about my trauma I’ll never get better. This is just who I am now.”
But you can talk about what you’re feeling and going through now without talking about the specific events of your trauma. For example, if you have bad anxiety, we don’t necessarily have to talk about the trauma to treat the anxiety. We can address current issues and symptoms without having to address the past.
Remember: in therapy, you’re in control. I tell my clients that if they feel like they need to get up and walk out of the room, they should. You can also choose to sit near the door if that makes you feel safer, or tell your therapist at the beginning of a session that that day, you don’t want to talk about X, Y or Z. This is all not only ok, but actually beneficial and healthy. After all, a big part of trauma therapy is helping the client (you) regain a sense of control.
2. It will take years of trauma therapy before I feel better.
While some people do stay in therapy for many years, there are lots of short-term interventions that can have a huge impact on your mood and how you live your life. For example, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which includes relaxation techniques to help you feel safe, is designed to last no more than 6 months.
3. Dredging up traumatic memories will be scary, and it’s not worth it.
Young people often tell me that they’ve boxed away the memories and if they ignore it, it’ll eventually go away. To them, opening that box seems way more painful than ignoring it.
Certainly, beginning to process trauma can be painful and feel scary. But it can also be incredibly freeing and relieving.
Plus, one of the goals of therapy is physical and emotional safety. Instead of asking you to dive immediately into traumatic memories, they can help teach you relaxation techniques and coping mechanisms to deal with your symptoms. Therapists should only ask you to take next steps when you feel ready to. Again, YOU are in control.
4. If I’m honest, I’ll overwhelm my therapist.
It’s incredibly sad—and infuriating—that young people have been told that they are too much for other people to handle. It’s a therapist’s job to hear your truth, no matter what it is. We are trained for this, and have our own sources of support. It is not on you to try to figure out what we can handle and what we can’t.
5. My therapist won’t believe me.
We will absolutely believe you. You are the expert of your own story. It is not a therapist’s job to question you—it’s their job to support you.
6. This will be just like my last experience with therapy—which was bad.
If you’ve had a challenging or negative experience with therapy before, tell your therapist about it up front, when you first meet them. They can make sure they don’t recreate that bad experience.
7. My therapist won’t keep our conversations confidential.
What you and your therapist talk about is private, and stays between you and your therapist. If you’re under 18 years old and not yet an adult, there may be some circumstances when your therapist needs to discuss treatment or diagnosis with your parent or guardian. However, your therapist should be able to explain what information will remain between you two and what won’t. If you’re concerned about your confidentiality, tell your therapist up front. Remember that their main concern is your well-being and safety.
In addition, if at any time your therapist thinks that you or someone else is in danger, they are required by law to report the situation to certain authorities, like child protective services. Again, your therapist should be able to explain under what circumstances they would be required to report.
If you’ve been through trauma, you are not alone.
- Call SAMHSA’s 24/7 National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 to get connected to local resources.
- Text HOME to 741741 to message with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line.
- If you’re a young LGBTQ+ person, talk to a trained counselor from the Trevor Project’s TrevorLifeline by calling 1-866-488-7386.
- If you are 10-22 years old in NYC, you can call the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center at (212) 423-3000 for comprehensive, trauma-informed health care at no cost to you.
Kaitlin Klipsch-Abudu, LCSW is a trauma therapist at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, specializing in work with adolescents and children who have experienced sexual or family violence. Kaitlin has previously worked in court- and school-based settings, providing trauma-informed care and advocacy from an intersectional perspective.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 12,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.