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March 25, 2024

9 Best Trauma Therapy Activities

Katelyn McMahon
Registered Psychotherapist, VT #097.0134200
woman of color sits on her kitchen floor and meditates; trauma therapy activities
March 25, 2024
10 min to read
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If you’ve experienced trauma, you know how much it can change you. Your mental health, relationships, physical well-being, and general outlook on life can all be affected by trauma.

With that being said, you don’t have to stay stuck. There’s no quick fix for trauma, but healing is possible, and these trauma therapy activities for adults can help. 

In this blog post, I’ll share plenty of different techniques for you to try, including some that have helped my past therapy clients. Plus, I’ll share my professional opinion about when to seek professional support for trauma healing.

Types of trauma therapy techniques

Before we dive into activities you can try at home, let’s take a moment to explore some of the common methods that therapists use to treat trauma. Many of the activities I share later in this post will draw on the techniques I cover here.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This form of therapy focuses on how your thoughts (cognitions) and actions (behaviors) interact. Your therapist will help you identify unhelpful thought patterns and how shifting them can change how you think, feel, and act.
  • Psychodynamic therapy. In psychodynamic therapy, you’ll explore how your unconscious beliefs influence your behavior. Often, this involves exploring how early life experiences contribute to these beliefs.
  • Cognitive processing therapy (CPT). CPT is a structured form of trauma treatment that’s usually delivered throughout 12 sessions. You’ll write an account of your traumatic experience to help identify unhelpful beliefs related to your trauma, and your therapist will help you shift these beliefs to help you heal.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR). In EMDR, your therapist will help you reprocess how your brain responds to traumatic memories using a technique called bilateral stimulation. 
  • Prolonged exposure therapy (PE). Often, reminders of traumatic experiences can cause significant anxiety. In PE, your therapist will help you gradually face those reminders and build your ability to confidently manage the anxiety that comes with them.

These are just some of the treatment modalities that are used to help people heal from trauma. 

9 trauma activities for adults to try at home today

While many of these activities draw on principles from formal therapeutic techniques, they aren’t a replacement for therapy. However, they can help to supplement your recovery journey. Try them out to see which ones work best for you.

Note: You might become “flooded” (AKA overwhelmed by thoughts, memories, triggers, emotions, or physical sensations) when trying some of these techniques. Many of them involve confronting uncomfortable feelings, which can be daunting and even re-traumatizing. 
Please proceed with care and know that it is more than okay to take a break if things are feeling too intense at any time. Engage in an activity that brings you comfort, like walking in the park or talking to a friend, if you need to. And, the Lifeline is always available by contacting 988 if you’re in crisis. 

Trauma therapy activities

These activities draw from the trauma therapy techniques we discussed above.

1. Explore cognitive distortions. 

Once you identify your cognitive distortions (therapist-speak for unhelpful thought patterns), you may be able to gain a new perspective on your trauma. 

To be clear, this doesn’t involve minimizing your trauma or pretending it didn’t happen. Rather, it’s about changing your relationship with it. Check out this worksheet from TherapistAid for some guidance.

2. Journaling. 

There’s a reason why so many therapists recommend journaling. Seeing your thoughts and feelings on paper can help you identify those cognitive distortions we just talked about. Plus, like in cognitive processing therapy, it can help you get a clearer picture of how you relate to your trauma. 

There are plenty of different ways to journal–try following a prompt, letting yourself write in a stream of consciousness for ten minutes, or making a bulleted list to take the pressure off of being grammatically correct.

3. Grounding techniques. 

Grounding can be incorporated alongside any trauma therapy modality, but it’s an especially important part of EMDR and PE. Anytime you’ll be confronting triggers or traumatic memories, it’s essential to have tools that can help bring you back to center.

Grounding techniques like the 5-4-3-2-1 method, visualizing yourself in a safe place, or a mental categories game (think: naming all 50 states or thinking of a different breakfast cereal for each letter of the alphabet) can help you feel calm when you feel swept up by a memory or trigger.

Mind-body trauma healing activities

When you experience trauma, your body can be impacted just as much as your brain. Here are some trauma therapy techniques that focus on the mind-body connection.

4. Breathing exercises. 

Hear me out: breathing exercises work. Check out this systematic review that explores how slow breathing is correlated with parasympathetic nervous system activity (the part of the nervous system that stimulates the “rest and digest” response) as well as relaxation and reduced anxiety.

There are tons of different breathing techniques to try, so find the ones that work best for you. I like the 4-7-8 method, which involves inhaling for four seconds, holding the breath for seven seconds, and exhaling for eight seconds. I find that making the exhalation longer than the inhalation feels particularly soothing. 

5. Mindful movement. 

Mindful movement practices like yoga and tai chi are another effective way to nurture the mind-body connection. When we experience trauma, it can be difficult to find a sense of safety in our bodies. Engaging in practices that link breath and movement can encourage feelings of groundedness.

6. Body scan meditation. 

Trauma can also make us feel numb, frozen, or disconnected from our bodies. Doing a body scan meditation (either by searching for a free video on YouTube or DIYing it by simply focusing on different parts of your body) can help you become more connected to your body and your emotions.

Trauma group therapy activities

You don’t have to recover from trauma on your own. Healing in connection with others can also be incredibly powerful. Here are some group trauma therapy techniques to try with loved ones.

7. Expressive arts circle. 

Tap into your creative expression as a way of processing your trauma. Grab a group of friends and try different mediums, like crayons, air-dry clay, watercolors, collage, or even fiber arts like knitting or crocheting.

If you’re comfortable, you can share about what your creation represents and how it relates to your healing journey. If not, simply use this as a time to create and connect.

8. Sharing gratitude. 

Recognizing what you’re thankful for isn’t meant to negate the painful things you’ve been through. Rather, it’s a way to hold space for the positive alongside the negative. Doing so with others can be even more powerful.

A gratitude practice can take several forms. Maybe you’d like to pick a loved one and commit to texting each other one thing you’re grateful for each day. Maybe you can keep a gratitude journal that you pass around your circle of friends a la Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants😉No matter what form this takes, focusing on gratitude can make a positive impact. 

9. Spending time in nature. 

Research shows that getting outside can be beneficial for mental health (check out this article from the APA). And if you’re short on time or live in a city, don’t worry–even just a few minutes in nature can help.

While you don’t need to do this with another person to reap the benefits, sharing time outdoors with a friend, partner, or other loved one can provide accountability and connection. Go for a walk in the park, try rollerblading, take a hike, or find another way to enjoy nature together.

When at-home trauma therapy activities aren’t enough: A therapist’s perspective

All of these trauma therapy techniques can help you heal. At the same time, they aren’t meant to replace therapy.

Each person’s trauma healing journey is different, and even therapy isn’t meant to be a magic pill. However, evidence-based therapy techniques paired with the emotional support and connection you can find with a therapist can help most people improve their quality of life after trauma.

I recommend implementing these strategies alongside getting help from a qualified mental health professional. Need help finding a therapist? Connect with one of our vetted therapists in your area to get the support you need to heal. 

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Written by
Katelyn McMahon
Registered Psychotherapist, VT #097.0134200

Katelyn is a therapist-turned-writer with a passion for mental health. She has a Master's degree in Social Work from the University of England and is a Registered Psychotherapist in the state of Vermont. Katelyn has professional experience in aging care, addiction treatment, integrated health care, and private practice settings. She also has lived experience being on the client side of therapy. Currently, Katelyn is a content writer who’s passionate about spreading mental health awareness and helping other therapists and therapy-seekers Do The Work.

Reviewed by
Kristie Plantinga

Kristie Plantinga is the founder of Best Therapists. Along with being on the client-side of therapy, Kristie has had the honor of working directly with therapists in her marketing agency for therapists, TherapieSEO. While working alongside therapists, she learned about the inequities in our mental health system that therapists face on a daily basis, and she wanted to do something about it. That’s why Best Therapists is a platform designed to benefit not only therapy-seekers, but therapy providers. Kristie has a Masters degree in Written Communication and a Bachelors degree in Psychology and Music.

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