Childhood trauma is more prevalent than many people realize, with 67% of children reporting a traumatic experience before the age of 16. If you experienced a traumatic event, or a series of traumatic events, in your childhood, you are not alone.
Unsurprisingly, those who have experienced adverse childhood experiences are at a much higher risk to become perpetrators themselves or to be revictimized again in the future if their symptoms are left untreated.
This is why getting access to the right mental health services to treat and heal the impacts is absolutely critical.
However, it can be challenging to navigate the mental health landscape, especially when looking for a specialized service. You might wonder- what kind of therapy do I need? What should I look for in a therapist?
Our mission is to remove as many roadblocks as possible for getting into the door of a therapist to help with childhood trauma. So today, we are sharing all you need to know about how childhood trauma may be showing up in your life and how you can find the support you need.
Childhood Trauma Therapist for Adults
What is Childhood Trauma?
First, let’s level set- what is childhood trauma, and how do you know if this applies to you?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention defines Adverse childhood experiences (i.e. ACEs) as potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (0-17 years). These are events that are scary, dangerous, violent, and potentially life threatening.
Experiences of childhood trauma include…
- experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect
- witnessing violence in the home or community
- having a family member attempt or die by suicide
Children can also suffer long term traumatic impacts of living in an environment which was detrimental to their safety, stability, attachment bonding, and development. Per the CDC, this could include children report experiencing events like…
- substance use problems
- mental health problems
- instability due to parental separation or household members being in jail or prison
What are the Impacts of Childhood Trauma?
Childhood trauma has an array of impacts on functioning once that child becomes an adult.
Oftentimes, children who experience a traumatic event have a part of their self or personality that gets developmentally “stuck” at the age they were when the trauma occurs. Missing developmental milestones has longer term impacts on their healthy functioning.
Early traumatic experiences can also impact a child’s ability to create healthy, secure attachment bonds. Healthy attachments in childhood set the foundation for functional relationships in adulthood by teaching children how to connect with others in order to feel safe in the world and in their environment.
Traumatic experiences can leave people with post traumatic stress, haunting them with unwanted images and intrusive memories of the event. These memories often live in the body, leaving the nervous system in a dysregulated state as it hyperactively scans the environment for safety. This constant state of hyper-vigilance can also leave the person feeling defeated, stressed, and unable to trust others or their environment.
Left untreated, these experiences can result in post traumatic stress disorder ptsd, chronic stress, anxiety depression, intrusive traumatic memories, and more.
A mental health professional can help people reprocess traumatic experiences and work to alleviate the trauma responses they manage. Several models of trauma therapy exist, many of which are supported by research in their ability to heal impacts of trauma.
Healing Childhood Trauma
A childhood trauma therapist helps clients who have experienced trauma as children to reprocess the experience and understand how it impacts their functioning and relationships as an adult.
There are many different types of therapy and methods of healing from trauma, and what works for one person may differ from what works for another. Here are some promising trauma focused modalities to work through trauma healing.
Attachment-based Trauma Healing
Attachment informed treatment leverages concepts from attachment theory in working toward therapeutic goals.
Attachment therapists help clients organize their mental understanding of the event, their emotional response, and the bodily sensations they experience. Most attachment therapies focus on creating new experiences in a session that lay the groundwork for rewiring the nervous system- or teaching the nervous system that the client is in a new reality, not in the traumatic incident.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of therapy that was created to help people reduce the stress associated with traumatic memories.
During EMDR, a therapist will guide a client to attend to the traumatic material (in their mind, they are not required to say it out loud), while also focusing on an external stimulus (most commonly the lateral eye movements).
The purpose of EMDR is to access the trauma memory network so that the information can be reprocessed with new associations between the trauma memory and more adaptive information. Those new pathways are though to to alleviate emotional distress and allow for new insights.
From a physiological perspective, traumatic experiences are those which activate the fight/flight/freeze/fawn sympathetic nervous system response. When a traumatic experience happens, the nervous system gets overwhelmed and becomes stuck.
The nervous system communicates through the body, so to become unstuck, somatic practices help clients process through the body (soma means “of the body”). These practices show the body that the person is safe in the here and now, not in the traumatic experience that happened years ago and required the trauma response.
In somatic therapy, clients become aware not only of their thoughts, but of emotions and physiological sensations throughout the body. Some techniques you can expect include breathwork, body awareness, and pendulation, and resourcing.
Internal Family Systems
The Internal Family Systems model of therapy is an integrative approach to treatment that applies family systems theory to individual psychotherapy.
The model assumes that people have many parts of their self in addition to a core Self which is the wise, intuitive part. In experiences of trauma, some of the parts of us carry adverse memories, negative beliefs, emotions, sensations, and energies from that experience.
IFS helps people to identify the parts that hold trauma, connect with the body, and access and heal their protective and wounded inner parts. IFS focuses on the body’s innate knowledge and wisdom in its healing process.
How to Find a Childhood Trauma Therapist
The best way to find a therapist and therapy for childhood trauma is to look for a provider who specializes in one of the above modalities in the area where you live.
If one of the approaches above resonated with you, you can look for a provider on the website directory for the model itself. However, you can also use a directory like Psychology Today or a Google search to find a therapist who is licensed to practice where you live.
It’s always helpful to meet with a therapist first before scheduling an intake session. Many providers offer a free introductory call. On this call, here are some questions you can ask them:
- Have you worked with trauma survivors before?
- What is your approach to treating trauma?
- What is your view of change when it comes to traumatic experiences?
- What can I expect in a typical session?
Therapy can be an intimidating, daunting path if you’ve never done it before. The reality is also that change happens slowly. You may wonder, given all of this, is therapy worth it? Should I seek professional help?
As a therapist working with individuals who have experienced trauma, while I cannot guarantee any outcome for you, my view is that you are absolute worth it, and you deserve a life of peace, free from the impacts of the trauma you’ve endured.
More Resources for Childhood Trauma Healing
- The Body Keeps the Score
- Healing Developmental Trauma
- Walking the Tiger- Healing Trauma
- What my Bones Know
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