SARA is one of the few (maybe only) agencies in the area that provides free, long-term therapy to address complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). Long-term therapy typically means treatment that takes between 1 to 4 years to complete. C-PSTD refers to the experience of chronic traumatization over a long period of time and greatly impacts a person's view of the world and themselves. This is not to say that PTSD caused by a single incident cannot be just as impactful on a person’s functionality in the world and how they perceive themselves. However, if we think of experiences of trauma like roots of a tree: the more roots there are, then the more tangled and imbedded they become. So, it can take longer to dig them up and clear them out.
Many of the clients who seek services at SARA often have multiple incidents of trauma in their histories, many of which having started in childhood. This leaves folks with deeply engrained patterns of behavior that have often felt protective or necessary for survival. At certain times in a person’s life, those patterns were very much necessary for survival, but may no longer serve the survivor in the here and now. For folks with trauma histories, this can be a challenging distinction to make because the threat often still feels very real and very present in the here and now.
A long-term therapy model allows clients to go at their own pace as they begin to rebuild a sense of internal and external safety through relationship and skill building. Often this includes redefining what they believe about themselves and gaining the resources necessary to address the root causes, or the traumatic events that created these beliefs and patterns. On paper this may sound like a simple task, but in changing these patterns we are asking folks to change the wiring in their brains, which requires new and adaptive experiences over time. If we have a belief that says, “I’m not good enough” then it takes time to build towards changing that to “I am good enough” because it’s like a muscle that just hasn’t gotten much use. That muscle takes time to build and is dependent on consistent repetition and felt experience.
Taking the needed time to create these new beliefs and patterns helps the person gain a sense of control over their beliefs and feelings. It allows the client to build up the ability to stay grounded and present in the face of stressful or triggering situations. From there, folks can begin to process and integrate traumatic experiences in a way that makes those experiences hold less power over their lives through small exposures over time.
This long-term model, coupled with a small therapy staff, does mean that there can be a substantial wait time to get set up with a SARA therapist, but many of our clients have already participated in short term treatment models or are even referred from such programs. While short-term therapy can be incredibly helpful for very contained and specific issues the client wants to address, it is often not enough time to untangle the lasting effects of C-PTSD.