How to Become a Trauma Specialist

trauma specialists Mar 03, 2023

By Jamie Sedgwick, LCPC, NCC 

EMDRIA Approved Consultant

An increase in information about trauma, PTSD and C-PTSD has led to an increase in the demand for Trauma Therapists. However, there are no clear guidelines on what is actually required to be a Trauma Therapist. There are plenty of training programs that promise a “Certification” once completed and all these programs and trainings contain different information and different levels of engagement. Ultimately, pretty much anyone can call themselves a “Trauma Therapist” meaning that Trauma Therapists and their skill sets vary greatly. 

So how do you become a Trauma Therapist that is truly equipped to help clients heal from trauma? 

Take Time to Become Trauma-Informed 

Trauma-Informed treatment approaches consist of three elements: realizing the prevalence of trauma, recognizing the impact of trauma and responding in a way that puts this knowledge into action.1In layman’s terms, this means taking trainings and educating yourself about the specific groups you are interested in working with to better understand the impact of traumatic experiences on worldviews, relationships and beliefs about self. For example, if you want to work with First Responders, take trainings to learn about trauma experiences and impact of work culture on trauma symptoms specific to this group. If you want to work with Complex Trauma (C-PTSD) take time learning about the trauma experiences and symptoms specific to this group. Trauma presentations are complex, and it is important to have a sense of the complexities specific to the group you plan to treat. Additionally, it is important to understand that these groups may overlap. A First Responder may also have a Complex Trauma history. 

In order to be truly Trauma-Informed you must consider each individual and their specific history. Do not assume because you have taken a 6 hour CE Training in working with First Responders that you are an expert. Ask questions and conceptualize each client individually. Understand each client’s specific trauma experiences as well as their protective factors and how that impacts day-to-day functioning. 

When Trauma-Informed Care is done well, the client feels empowered and learns to trust their own capacity for healing. 

Get Training in an Evidence-Based Treatment Modality 

Being a Trauma Therapist is more than just providing Trauma-Informed Care but requires extensive training in an Evidence-Based Trauma Treatment Modality. One such modality is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR is an 8 Phase treatment modality that heals trauma symptoms instead of simply teaching skills to manage symptoms. Extensive research has shown that EMDR is effective in treating trauma. This means that clients entering treatment with a trauma diagnosis no longer meet criteria for a trauma diagnosis after receiving EMDR treatment. According to Francine Shapiro, the creator of EMDR, more than 7 million people have been treated successfully for trauma using EMDR (Shapiro, 2016). EMDR has the ability to completely shift how a Trauma Therapist conceptualizes and treats clients presenting with trauma symptoms if the therapist takes the time to engage in ongoing learning and consultation past EMDR Basic Training. Regardless of the evidence-based trauma treatment modality chosen, an effective Trauma Therapist engages in ongoing learning and case consultation far past the initial training. Learning about trauma and treating it is an ongoing process and a Trauma Therapist must be open to this process. 

The treatment modality chosen must be implemented utilizing the components of Trauma-Informed mentioned earlier. A Trauma Therapist understands that even though they have received training in an evidence-based trauma treatment modality they are not an expert on the client. This means considering how each modality may need to be adapted to meet each individual client’s needs. In considering EMDR, this means that Phase 2, the Preparation Phase, looks different for each client and the EMDR Therapist is considering advanced protocols to meet client’s reprocessing needs when necessary. 

Address Your Own Trauma 

Finally, an effective Trauma Therapist addresses their own trauma. It is so important for a Trauma Therapist to understand and treat their own trauma symptoms to prevent it from impacting their clinical work. A Trauma Therapist is likely to encounter at least one client that has had experiences similar to their own. If the Trauma Therapist has not done their own trauma work, they run the risk of experiencing an increase in trauma symptoms or inadvertently projecting their own trauma beliefs and responses on their client instead of meeting the client where they are and addressing their needs. 

The experience of undergoing trauma treatment can be an invaluable tool in understanding how to provide Trauma-Informed Care. Ideally, the treatment would help model good Trauma-Informed Care and how it feels to receive that care. In less than ideal cases, this experience could also model what not to do when providing Trauma-Informed Care. I also believe that experiencing trauma treatment as a Trauma Therapist can increase empathy and understanding of the process to be able to better support clients in their own recovery. 

Information about EMDR Training 

Last but not least, if you are considering getting trained in EMDR therapy, be sure the training you choose is EMDRIA approved. You can find EMDRIA approved trainings by going to Trauma Specialists Training Institute (TSTI) is an EMDRIA approved training provider that offers EMDR Basic Training, Advanced Training and ongoing consultation options. 

About the Author 

Jamie Sedgwick, LCPC completed an EMDRIA Approved EMDR Basic Training in 2017. She credits this training with completely changing her therapy practice. Jamie is now an EMDR Consultant and Director of Training and Consultation at Trauma Specialist Training Institute.

Sign up for our Basic Training today! 

Chapter 1: Trauma-Informed Care: A Sociocultural Perspective. National Library of Medicine. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 
Shapiro, Francine. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)Therapy: Basic Principles, Protocols and Procedures. Third Edition. c. 2018.



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