Trauma is an emotional response to a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. When the traumatic event or experience ends, the emotional response can continue. People can carry the long-term effects of childhood trauma for years, well into adulthood. Trauma treatment programs can help begin the healing process.
Understanding Childhood Trauma
Childhood trauma occurs when a child experiences a frightening or dangerous event. Some common traumatic experiences for children include institutional racism in their school or community, loss of a loved one, natural disasters, bullying, separation from a parent or caregiver, and any form of abuse or neglect.
Trauma can evoke a strong fight or flight response, negative emotions, or even physical symptoms like weight loss and lack of sleep. Traumatic experiences overwhelm and break down a person’s sense of safety, dignity, and connection, according to Carmen Dominguez, Executive Director of Clinical Programming at Integrative Life Center. She said childhood abuse causes habitual patterns, even when they aren’t useful.
“The unconscious brain creates a pattern of fear to present time experiences. These patterns take the form of an array of intimacy disorders and psychopathologies such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and substance and process addictions,” she said.
To better help adults with mental illnesses, mental health professionals try to determine if their clients experienced childhood trauma.
When to Seek Treatment for Childhood Trauma
Seeking treatment at the first sign of trauma is ideal. Early intervention can do a lot to prevent the lasting effects of trauma. But even adults are candidates for trauma treatment programs that address childhood experiences, and treating the trauma can get to the root of other mental health issues. Childhood trauma can cause long-lasting adverse effects, but treatment can help identify that trauma and help to heal it.
Adults respond differently when learning that something that happened to them as a child still impacts them today, Carmen stated.
“Sometimes, a client responds by feeling relieved to find the missing piece of the puzzle. However, what follows is feeling overwhelmed with hurt, shame, and anger. They are left feeling vulnerable and mistrustful, and often default to their habitual protective patterns.”
Trauma treatment programs can provide a safe place to work through trauma when you feel vulnerable or distrustful.
Consider seeking treatment for childhood trauma if you’re:
- Experiencing unwanted flashbacks or nightmares
- Having sleep issues
- Feeling isolated
- Experiencing emotional disorders
- Having relationship difficulties
- Using alcohol and substances to cope
- Having suicidal thoughts
There are many symptoms of childhood trauma in adults and signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults. Knowing signs and symptoms of trauma can help you better seek the care you need to start your healing journey.
Effective Treatments for Childhood Trauma
Trauma treatment programs help trauma survivors identify their triggers, learn healthy coping strategies, and reduce the effects of their trauma symptoms in a healthy environment. Trauma must be treated holistically, Carmen said.
“The best treatment aims to inspire clients to enter the journey of healing so they can restore their self-agency. Clients benefit from understanding how, in response to developmental trauma, the brain was hijacked and driven into states of chaos or rigidity, and this experience disrupted the relationship with self. The best practice is to inspire clients to re-establish a relationship with their inherent worth, to become curious about who they are beyond their diagnosis.”
Mental health professionals can use various therapies to treat childhood trauma.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
Cognitive Processing Therapy is a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It is often the first choice for treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, especially when that PTSD results from childhood trauma. The treatment is usually 12 sessions where a patient is taught to identify PTSD emotions and how to best process them.
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)
Like CPT, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. TF-CBT is effective for children and teens struggling with emotions following a traumatic event. TF-CBT is typically 12 to 15 sessions and relies on parents or caregivers to help in the treatment process.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
A mental health professional uses repetitive eye movements to reprogram memories associated with traumatic events in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Therapists use this type of treatment in cases of trauma or PTSD. EMDR is broken into eight phases and can help patients heal from unprocessed traumatic memories.
Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET)
Narrative Exposure Therapy is a short-term individual therapy for children or adults. This treatment is most effective in treating people with multiple traumatic experiences. NET is an alternative to TF-CBT for people with PTSD and focuses on embedding trauma exposure into an autobiographical context known as the timeline.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE)
Prolonged Exposure Therapy is another type of CBT and typically takes place over three months. Therapists use it to treat PTSD and other conditions, and the sessions involve confronting trauma-related fears, memories, and emotions with the help of a therapist. Because this type of treatment involves confronting trauma, the relationship between the patient and therapist needs to be stable.
Navigating the long-term effects of childhood trauma is difficult, and no one should have to do it alone. Integrative Life Center is here to help you recognize, address, and heal past traumatic experiences. Contact Integrative Life Center today and get the support you need to reclaim your life.