How Skyland Trail Addresses Trauma

This article appears in the 2023 issue of Journeys Magazine

Research shows that trauma – particularly childhood trauma – is a risk factor for developing many mental illnesses. Trauma experienced at any age can influence or worsen all mental health disorders, not just PTSD.

Trauma and Mental Health

Diagnostic criteria for trauma-related disorders include not just people who directly experience violence or injury, but also people who witness traumatic events, people with a close relative or family member who experienced trauma, and people who are repeatedly exposed to the details of traumatic events in the course of professional duties.

All Skyland Trail patients are assessed for trauma at admission. Many Skyland Trail adult and adolescent patients have a history of trauma.

Trauma-Informed Psychiatric Care

The model of care practiced at the Skyland Trail adult and adolescent treatment programs is “trauma-informed.” By helping trauma survivors first address symptoms of depression, anxiety, or borderline personality disorder, trauma-informed psychiatric treatment allows patients to develop insight and adopt healthy coping skills to handle difficult emotions before beginning the challenging work of processing their specific trauma. Often, specialized trauma processing therapy is done with an outpatient therapist after residential treatment.

Addressing the Impact of Trauma

However, after developing appropriate coping skills and insight, some Skyland Trail patients engage in additional layers of specialized programming to begin addressing the specific impact of trauma on their mental health while in treatment at Skyland Trail.

Adult Programs: Cognitive Processing Therapy

In 2022, Skyland Trail introduced Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) for adult patients with a co-occurring PTSD diagnosis who have “stuck points” following a traumatic event and are struggling to make progress in treatment due to related symptoms.

Adult patients assigned to CPT groups participate in two CPT groups weekly in addition to their ongoing individual and group work on CBT or DBT skills. Patients are not required to describe their trauma explicitly but are instead asked to explore the ways their traumatic experiences have impacted their thoughts, behaviors, and emotions and have created barriers to pursuing the life they want to live. Working with our CPT-trained clinicians, patients learn skills to challenge unhealthy patterns and build new skills to help them move forward.

Adolescent Programs: Prolonged Exposure Therapy

Teens with a history of trauma admitting to our adolescent residential treatment program may be referred by our psychiatrist to participate in individual prolonged exposure therapy (PE) as part of their treatment.

Prolonged exposure therapy may be particularly helpful for clients who have trauma-related symptoms that prevent them from fully engaging in foundational CBT or DBT therapeutic work.

The goal of PE is to reduce the power of the memory of the traumatic event over time. With less potency, the memory becomes less disruptive, and the patient is better able to engage more fully in treatment to address other psychiatric symptoms and improve coping and interpersonal skills.

In 2023, the Skyland Trail adolescent clinical team received training in prolonged exposure therapy through the Prolonged Exposure Consultant Training Program at Emory University School of Medicine and is working toward certification in PE.