How to Become a Trauma Therapist

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Working as a trauma therapist is a highly specialized area of psychological practice. Trauma therapists work with patients who have lived through horrific events – war, deadly accidents, violent crime, including sexual assault.

These experiences may be crippling the client’s ability to live any semblance of a normal life. The job of the trauma therapist, indeed, the challenge, is to help individuals develop coping mechanisms to manage their response against memories they may never forget.

how to become a trauma therapist

Trauma can be so damaging because traumatic events literally change the functioning of the brain. Areas of the brain that once worked in a particular way now work differently due to hyperarousal caused by trauma.

The Amygdala are components deep within the two hemispheres of the brain that control emotional responses. Trauma changes the functioning of the Amygdala in unpredictable ways. In some people the change may intensify the “fight or flight” response. In others, trauma may trigger overwhelming anxieties, anger, panic and many more negative reactions that hobble a person’s ability to function.

People who have experienced trauma may react to minor triggers. Trauma makes the amygdala hypersensitive to the perception of threat. As a result, the fear response can rise up from less stress.

The brain’s prefrontal cortex controls learning and problem solving. When the amygdala becomes overstimulated due to trauma, it shuts off. This impacts the traumatized person’s ability to process what is happening. When you don’t know what is happening, you cannot know how to respond.

Extreme stress brought on by trauma elevates cortisol in the body. Cortisol is a hormone that acts as the body’s primary alarm system. Elevated cortisol over a sustained period is known to cause poor memory, depression and physical inflammations. As a result, trauma impacts an individual’s ability to think, remain calm and stay in control.

As a trauma therapist your role is to listen, to diagnose and to develop a plan that helps your clientele be able to live again without the random recollection of an event shutting them down.

This is a challenging yet extremely rewarding career. You will be assisting people from all walks of life who have experienced things that most of us pray we will never encounter. Yet life happens. You can be part of the healing process.

how much do trauma therapists make

These are some of the traits that make up a good trauma therapist:

  • Strong-willed
  • Willingness to follow client’s lead
  • Attention to detail
  • Sensitivity
  • Calming nature
  • Emotional strength

With training and licensure, you can also make an above-average income as a trauma therapist.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • How much money you can make as a trauma therapist
  • The required training and certifications
  • Professional groups to join
  • Employment opportunities for a trauma therapist
  • Finding clients
  • Plus helpful tips

How much money can you make?

The average national salary of a trauma psychologist is currently $63,000 a year, according to the Master’s in Psychology Guide. Working independently, in your own private practice, with a few years of experience you can be earning $100,000 or more.

Training and Certification

All 50 states require a master’s degree in counseling along with supervised work experience and passing the state board exam to be licensed as a trauma counselor.

Most states will also require between 2,000 to 3,000 hours of supervised experience working as a counselor. You’ll work with a clinical supervisor to go over your counseling cases. This experience should include counseling work in a variety of situations, with individuals and couples as well as families.

training and certification as trauma therapist

The International Association of Trauma Professionals (IATP) offers a training program leading to certification.

Level I certification currently costs about $439 per course plus a $99 application fee. The courses are administered by several independent educational organizations in partnership with the IATP.

Here’s what you’ll study (each class below is linked so you can review course materials):

Trauma therapists may also use cognitive behavior therapy and other techniques to help clients deal with negative emotions. Counselors using cognitive behavior therapy help people change their thinking about a trauma and its aftermath. The goal of this therapy is to replace negative thoughts with more positive, less distressing thoughts.

You’ll also learn techniques for helping clients develop healthy ways to cope with feelings and strong emotions that can arise from a trauma.

Professional Groups to Join

The International Association of Trauma Professionals is recognized worldwide in the therapy community. Joining this association offers proof of your commitment to the highest professional standards of delivering trauma therapy.

trauma therapists professional groups

Annual membership is $99.99. Benefits of membership include a listing on the organization’s Find a Therapist directory, which helps potential clients locate and contact you. Plus, you’ll have ongoing education opportunities and the ability to network with other professionals like yourself. Building a social network can help you not only stay current in the field but also find jobs.


Trauma therapists, especially those early in their career, may not lead an especially structured professional life. Employment with a hospital, for example, will often bring you in contact with patients in the emergency room or who are being prepared for admittance to the hospital. Every situation will be different. If you work as a therapist in a police department or perhaps a shelter for domestic abuse victims, chances are you’ll be on call, responding at unpredictable hours of the day and night.

The U.S. Veterans Administration, the Department of Defense and local community trauma centers can all be avenues for employment as a trauma therapist.

Trauma therapists can also find work with organizations such as the Red Cross, which needs professional therapists in times of natural disaster. You can sign up with these organizations to be contacted on an as-needed basis while pursuing full-time work at a hospital, public agency or private practice.

Finding Clients

Alert professionals in the community that you are available for referrals. Doctors and clergy who are aware of your business and know you personally are much more likely to recommend your services for new clients.

If your memberships in professional organizations include a listing in an online directory, make you’re your business is on there. Many organizations like the International Association of Trauma Professionals maintain a searchable web page of members so potential clients can find you.

Your business website should include the name of your practice, address, city and state and phone number on every page at the top. This helps search engines recognize your website as a match for people looking for a therapist in a specific city.

If you’re running a private practice, you’ll need to make payment arrangements. This includes deciding whether to accept insurance plans. If you do, you will likely increase the pool of available clients needing your services. At the same time, insurance companies may not provide a benefit equal to what you want to be charging. And there’s paperwork to manage.

finding clients as trauma therapist

The main advantage of requiring fees due at the time of service is you get paid immediately.

Good to know:

A career in the field of trauma therapy requires a specific skill set, beyond formal education. The Psychology School Guide suggests having and developing the traits below will make you more successful as a trauma therapist.


All great trauma counselors possess patience. You must be able to listen with your complete attention. Learning how to be comfortable with listening rather than reacting is an important trait.


In your work as a trauma therapist you are likely going to be disturbed by things you hear and see. It is not helpful to become an emotional crutch for clients. Being supported without becoming emotionally invested will be key to your own well-being as a trauma therapist.

Attention to Detail

These are not casual conversations you’re having with clients. Careful note taking is important to maintain a record of your interactions with clients. Records can also provide material evidence of progress. A skilled, detailed-oriented therapist also pays careful attention to the actions and behaviors of clients. This aids in the development of strategies and solutions to help clients.

If you enjoyed this article, check out some more great content that can help you grow your career as a trauma therapist. Here’s a great place to start.

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