Therapies used for those who experienced childhood trauma
Trauma may be defined as the experience of an overwhelming event, sometimes life-threatening to self or other. For some more than one event, which shatters our faith in ourselves, the world, in others, or in God occurs and we often collapse in a form of depression and despair. Trauma can have many negative after-effects including: hyperstartle, emotional numbness, sensitivity to light or noise, the avoidance of situations in which the memory of the trauma is re-experienced, the re-experiencing of the trauma, in dreams, or in intrusive thoughts and images, and behaviours which seem to relive the trauma in some ways. Children may experience surgeries, or dental work as traumatic and preparation for such events may not be easy.
There are many forms of therapy for trauma, all of which deal with both verbal and non-verbal combinations of therapy. Trauma memory is generally "stuck" in the right hemisphere, and the activated the emotional brain or limbic system. Depending on the age of the person traumatized, the effects will differ and current research is looking at what Bessel Van der Kolk and others refer to as Developmental Trauma Disorder.
Most effective therapies involve prevention of the avoidance responses to trauma and the cues to the memory; assistance in looking at the beliefs formed in trauma – Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) or Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and calming the body as in prayer or meditation while dealing with traumatic material. The body element is crucial as is the ability to pull most of the detail of the memory, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch and processing the material in a safe place. As well, some memory returns in the form of somatic reactions or body experiences, and some may find they get sick more often as a response and sometimes as memory.
Cues for trauma memory to be stimulated can involve both direct cues ie. when this happens I am going to get hurt or another is going to get hurt and indirect cues, ie. such as the place the traumas occurred, eg. the school, the hospital the church, the field, in a jungle, or near a river can also trigger a person. Avoidance of these cues as well as thinking about the trauma can occur. The trauma may itself be defined by the traumatized person in a way that maintains the traumatic beliefs so that if it is seen as deliberately done by someone, it is a different experience than if it is an act of nature.
Traumatized people can feel as if they are a tiny unsupported David in the face of the gigantic Philistines and their main man Goliath. They need to feel as if they are the same size with a team of people alongside them in the battle. Unfortunately, with their trust in others often shattered, they may have difficulty experiencing the support they need. Some may find that the very systems they thought would be there for unconditional support, such as the mission leaders or the insurance companies are not, and so need people who understand both their beliefs and experiences and can help with the systems around them. They may find that their trust in themselves, their sense self-worth or the worth of others, their feelings of competence, and/or their ability to have intimate relationships are all affected. Some may begin to be aggressive, or overly passive, and some may repeatedly do things, which appear attempts attacking control either of the traumas, or of any future traumas, something they cannot do.
Some develop substance abuse problems, others engage in rituals designed to reduce their anxiety. Trauma therapies include:
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Observed Experiential Integration (OEI)
Thought-Field Therapy (TFT)
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
Energy Diagnostics Treatment Method (EDxTM)
Somatic Body Experiencing (SOMA)
Visual/Kinetic Dissociation (VK/D)
Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP)
Art and Movement Therapy; Hypnosis; and a variety of drug therapies.
As well, neuratherapy utilizing a variety of electronic equipment in various forms of biofeedback may be used by some specialized practitioners.
There are also adjunctive therapies done by homeopaths and naturopaths which can greatly assist in trauma work.
A therapist trained in trauma work will be able to explain many of these therapies to you, as well as deal with any concerns you may have. Most therapists are licensed either as clinical social workers, or psychologists or marriage and family counsellors, and some psychiatrists specialize in working with trauma survivors of all ages. Their local registries will often have a list of those who have specialized training in dealing with trauma.
Jane Wakefield, R.Psych. BC #268,
ASTSS Certified Trauma Specialist.