a happy woman smiling after trauma focused acceptance commitment therapy/ Therapy Birmingham/ 35223

Trauma-Focused Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Another Way of Treating Trauma-Related Disorders.

Trauma can cast a long shadow over one’s life, impacting relationships, mental health, and overall well-being. Trauma can be defined in a number of ways, but for this article, we will define a “traumatic event” as one that involves a significant degree of actual or perceived threat of physical or psychological harm to oneself or others. These events typically impact the way someone views themselves, others, and the world- therefore impacting the way they show up in their life.

Trauma-related disorders involve:

  • Direct or indirect experience of traumatic events
  • Distressing emotional, cognitive, and physiological reactions to that experience
  • Inability to cope effectively with one’s own distressing reactions.

This article will provide a roadmap of Trauma-Focused Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a compassion and exposure-based approach that is trauma informed: draws from relevant fields of research; trauma-aware: attuned to possible roles of trauma in a wide range of clinical issues; and trauma sensitive: alert to risks of experiential work, particularly mindfulness meditation. We will discuss the stages of therapy, different responses to trauma, and finding posttraumatic growth that allows a new appreciation for life.

A woman drinking coffee/ Starting trauma focused Acceptance Commitment Therapy/ Empower Counseling

Starting off Safely with Trauma-Focused Acceptance Commitment Therapy

The most crucial factor of successful therapy is the relationship between client and therapist. Our clinicians understand that traumatized individuals have very little to no sense of safety within their bodies, environments, or with others. Therefore, we focus on creating trust and a safe, supportive space that allows the client to open up about their experiences.

We listen with openness and curiosity, see things from the client’s perspective, we empathize, normalize, and validate. We ask permission, we offer clarity, check in, offer rationale, collaborate with client, and pace treatment according to clients’ specific needs.

TF-ACT uses psychoeducation in early sessions. Psychoeducation can be very useful in providing insight, understanding, and self-awareness of their experiences, thoughts, emotions, and reactions; it facilitates self-compassion, acceptance, motivation for change, and willingness to participate and practice in and out of sessions.

Furthermore, psychoeducation can help normalize symptoms clients may be experiencing. No matter if trauma is simple, complex, acute, or chronic, there will be the same three streams of symptoms:

  • Re-experiencing the traumatic event.
  • Neurobiological of hypoarousal and hyperarousal.
  • Psychological rigidity – the opposite of psychological flexibility (the ultimate goal of ACT).
A man in Trauma Focused Acceptance Commitment Therapy/ Empower Counseling/ Therapy in Birmingham

Living in the Present Moment

Trauma focused ACT encourages individuals to cultivate mindfulness and present-moment awareness. Rather than dwelling on the past or fearing the future, clients are guided to develop a non-judgmental awareness of their thoughts and emotions, laying the foundation for acceptance.

There isn’t one perfect definition of mindfulness, but ACT conceptualizes this practice as paying attention in a special way, with flexibility, openness, curiosity, and kindness (FLOCK). We use this to teach clients to anchor themselves in the present so they may disengage from distressing memories or future anxieties. Trauma survivors are often highjacked by their memories and it feels like they’ve been taken back to the exact moment the trauma took place. By cultivating awareness of the here and now, survivors can break free from the shackles of the past.

A woman healing from trauma watching the sunset/ trauma focused therapy/ Savannah Becotte with Empower Counseling

Healing from the Past with Trauma-Focused Acceptance Commitment Therapy

Central to Trauma-Focused ACT is the concept of accepting one’s traumatic experiences without judgment or avoidance. This acceptance does not imply approval but rather acknowledges the reality of the past. By embracing acceptance, individuals can begin to detach the emotional charge from their traumatic memories.

This acceptance should extend to the thoughts and emotions about traumatic events as well in order to cultivate self-compassion. Self-compassion is a vital tool for healing from trauma. Survivors learn to treat themselves with kindness and understanding, counteracting the harsh self-criticism that can stem from traumatic events.

Practicing self-compassion will help survivors in building emotional regulation skills. Instead of becoming engulfed by memories, thoughts, and feelings, trauma survivors can learn to observe thoughts and feelings that they notice and accommodate them as needed. Emotion regulation builds emotional resilience that allows folks to face what has happened to them openly and courageously.

A compass pointing toward the future

Building the Future

Trauma-Focused ACT helps clients identify their core values – the guiding principles that give life meaning and purpose. This process is crucial in establishing a direction for healing. Understanding one’s values empowers individuals to make choices aligned with their authentic selves. Values will be clarified in each domain of life:

  • Mental and Physical Health
  • Work/Education
  • Intimate relationships
  • Parenting and Family
  • Friendships and Community
  • Personal Growth and Learning
  • Adventure/Creativity/Leisure

Once values are clarified in each of these areas, SMART goals can be created. A smart goal is one that is specific, motivated by values, adaptive, realistic, and time framed. The benefits of achieving the chosen goal will be explored as well as potential obstacles, both within ourselves and within our external environments, and how to handle those obstacles.

Finally, we want to make sure goals are realistic for the client. If a goal feels too big, it’s unlikely appropriate steps can be made toward achieving it. Should this be the case, we simply make the goal smaller, easier, or consider a different goal entirely- practicing psychological flexibility, the core principle of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

A woman leaning out of a car window

The Ongoing Journey

Traditional approaches may inadvertently reinforce avoidance of places, people, things, or suppression of traumatic memories. Trauma-Focused ACT, on the other hand, fosters a compassionate approach to facing and accepting these memories, reducing the need for avoidance.

Through mindfulness and acceptance practices, TF-ACT equips individuals with tools to regulate their emotions effectively. This can be especially transformative for those grappling with the emotional aftermath of trauma.

By promoting self-compassion and acceptance, Trauma-Focused ACT contributes to a healthier relationship with oneself. Additionally, the therapy encourages the development of meaningful connections with others based on mutual understanding and support, allowing for posttraumatic growth.

Factors that increase likelihood for posttraumatic growth include:

  • Openness to experience
  • Ability to focus attention on what matters most and disengaging from uncontrollable or unsolvable problems
  • Ability to grieve and gradually accept the past
  • Presence of support from others and having access to different perspectives
  • New narratives of traumatic events and explore questions of meaning
  • Adaptive coping strategies
a man with outstretched arms after trauma focused acceptance Commitment Therapy/ Empower Counseling/ Birmingham therapists

Take Back Your Life with Help from Birmingham Therapists

Trauma-Focused Acceptance and Commitment Therapy stands at the intersection of mindfulness, acceptance, and commitment, offering a new paradigm for trauma recovery. By embracing acceptance, clarifying values, and taking committed action, individuals can embark on a journey of healing that goes beyond symptom reduction. Trauma-Focused ACT is not just about surviving trauma; it’s about reclaiming a sense of purpose, agency, and vitality in the aftermath of adversity- learning to thrive.

Empower Counseling and Coaching in Birmingham, AL understands how trauma changes the brain. Our clinicians focus on creating a safe environment for our clients to learn how to live in the present, heal from the past, build the future they want, and navigate the ongoing journey of post-traumatic growth.

We offer our services to teens with teen counseling, counseling for college students at Samford UniversityThe University of AlabamaAuburn UniversityUAB, Birmingham-Southern, and all colleges in the state of Alabama, young adultsadults, and professionals. All of our services are offered in person in our Mountain Brook offices and we offer online counseling through telehealth.

KathrynMartiSavannah, and Lucia offer anxiety counseling, counseling for trauma and PTSD, counseling for depression, outpatient therapy for eating disorders , bipolar treatment, and counseling for perfectionism and therapy for women’s issues.

Remember, reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness but an act of strength. Seeking trauma focused care in Birmingham with Savannah can provide you with a fresh perspective, empower you to reclaim your mental peace, and ultimately guide you towards living a fulfilling life, free from the chains of your past.

When you’re ready to take the next step towards a brighter future, Savannah is here to guide you through your journey to empowerment and well-being through these simple steps:

  1. Reach out to Empower Counseling and schedule your initial appointment with Savannah.
  2. Get acquainted with your therapist.
  3. Embark on your journey towards personal growth and empowerment.

HI, I am Savannah Becotte, a Birmingham therapist specializing in Trauma-Focused Act, as well as, EMDR for trauma. I help women, who have defined themselves by trauma, separate from the past so they can enjoy a better future. I am here to meet you where you are right now and to help guide you toward a sense of peace and calm.

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