5 Activities to Help Treat Trauma

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5 activities to help treat trauma

If you treat clients who suffer from trauma, you may wonder “What can I have them do outside of session to help?”  Besides from taking their medications as prescribed and trying to help them with relaxation, there may not be a lot that comes to mind for activities that can help them in coping with their trauma, if you can even get them do be physically active at all.  Well, it is tremendously important to encourage these clients to be active, and I have some recommendations about what kinds of activities they can try that research and literature have suggested.

Where to Start

Short of talking to your trauma clients about how they are prone to living their lives ‘from the neck up,’ as esteemed psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk has noted in his books, you can talk to them about how important it is to practice self-care and that their bodies are such an important part of self-care.  There are a number of forms of exercise and activities that, while not empirically proven to decrease traumatic symptoms in patients, are nonetheless therapeutic and supportive of recovery from trauma.  

So Here are 5 Activities to Help Treat Trauma:

  1. Yoga.  This was first suggested by Bessel van der Kolk, who specializes in working with clients who have PTSD.  He runs treatment facilities and was one of the early proponents of using yoga in treating trauma.
  2. Horseback Riding:  Hippotherapy is used to treat a number of conditions in the brain, and has a beneficial effect on socialization, in particular.  It requires some physical stamina and an ability to interact with an animal that is trained to respond positively to humans.  For more information you can look here.
  3. Walking:  This activity is good in general for its mood benefit, but also because it mimics the bi-lateral stimulation that is part of the mechanism involved in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), which is a form of therapy recommended for the treatment of PTSD.  
  4. Fly-fishing:  There is a national organization called Project Healing Waters, which promotes fly-fishing for veterans as a way to connect with other veterans and help heal from trauma.  One of the graduate students I worked with recently was part of this organization and personally attested to its benefit.  I think part of the appeal of this activity is that it does promote authentic connection with others dealing with similar issues by virtue of being in a natural environment that free from distractions.  Connecting with nature and with others…what could be better!
  5. (Put in your own ideas, but always recommend checking with a doctor if your clients have any compromising physical condition).  

Other Resources to Consider

I have spoken in a previous post about how retraumatization is a problem with individuals suffering from trauma.  As long as the activity someone is engaging in isn’t by itself part of people’s trauma experience, engaging in the above-mentioned activities shouldn’t risk re-traumatizing them.  Also, there are other activities to consider that can be helpful in treating trauma.  One of those was in one of Joe Sanok’s podcasts on the benefits of bibliotherapy and writing to treat trauma.  The action of writing by hand allows unpleasant feelings to figuratively travel out of the person through their arm and ‘get it out’ of their body in a manner of speaking.  In any case, the more alternatives you give your clients to empower them in their own recovery, the more they can make their journey out of trauma uniquely tailored to their own needs and wants.  This is a journey that is all-important and directed to freedom and liberation in the truest sense.

Scott Kampschaefer, LCSW is a private practice therapist in Austin, Texas.  He has an extensive background in working with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder at a clinic for older adults with these disorders in Austin.  He now works with adults and adolescents of all ages in private practice.