What Therapy is Best for Childhood Trauma?
Childhood is often portrayed as a time of joy and innocence. I find in the movies, at least, it's shown as a sacred period to look back upon with fondness. Sadly, this is just not the case for many of us. If your childhood was not the rosy, carefree time that is depicted in the media, you’re not alone. So many times at the clinic, I see folks who have tried to push away memories of their childhood, only to have them surface later in adulthood, or to feel that they are controlled by events of the past. Today, I will talk about how to understand childhood trauma, what it’s impacts are, and most importantly, how to deal from it.
I want to caution the reader: it can be distressing to read about childhood trauma, particularly if you are struggling with its aftermath. Please know that help is available, and you truly can heal. Be mindful of your reactions while you read this blog, and take a pause if you need to.
Understanding Childhood Trauma
Childhood trauma occurs when a child experiences either one event, or a series of events that cause physical, emotional or mental distress and harm. This can include things like being abused or neglected, exposure to domestic violence, or surviving the sudden loss of a loved one. The impact of experiences like these can lead to several distressing symptoms. People who have experienced childhood trauma might experience anxiety, depression, difficulties with trust and relationships, and a disrupted sense of self.
Many people who experience childhood trauma grow up to struggle with low self-worth. I have worked with so many clients who have found difficulties in their close relationships, and being able to trust others. It is important to remember that child abuse or childhood trauma is never your fault, no matter what your emotions might tell you.
Types of Childhood Trauma:
There are many types of trauma that a child may experience, and they might include one or a combination of the following:
Physical Abuse: Harm or threat of harm to a child, causing injuries or the potential for injuries.
Emotional Abuse: Harm caused by extreme criticism, humiliation, rejection, or other non-physical forms of hostile treatment.
Sexual Abuse: Engaging a child in sexual activities that they cannot understand, for which they can’t give informed consent, or that violate societal taboos.
Neglect: A caregiver’s failure to provide basic needs like food, clothing, medical care, education, or emotional support.
Witnessing Domestic Violence: Children who see, hear, or are aware of violence at home, even if they aren't directly abused, suffer trauma.
Medical Trauma: Severe injuries or illnesses, surgeries, or painful medical procedures can be traumatic.
Natural Disasters: Experiencing events like floods, earthquakes, or fires can be deeply distressing for children.
Separation and Loss: The death of a loved one, parental divorce, or being separated from primary caregivers can cause significant trauma.
Impact on Attachment and Relationships
Childhood trauma can particularly influence attachment styles. Attachment styles shape how you form and maintain relationships. The legacy of trauma can cause persistent feelings of insecurity, fear of abandonment, or difficulty in trusting others. If you are able to recognize these patterns, then you are taking a crucial stride toward healing and forming healthier, more fulfilling connections. I have delighted at watching my clients heal, recover and live lives that have deep connections with others.
Types of Therapy for Childhood Trauma
While the journey may be challenging, it’s essential to remember there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for therapy. If a therapist tells you that they have “the answer” for healing a legacy of trauma experienced in your formative years, please be cautious. Everyone is different, and often, it is the nature of the relationship between the therapist and the client that proves to be the most impactful way of healing.
The therapy best suited to you will resonate with your unique experiences, needs, and personality. Here are several different modalities that we like to use around here at LCTT.
1. Internal Family Systems (IFS):
What it is: Developed by Richard Schwartz in the 1980s, IFS views the mind as comprising multiple sub-personalities or "parts." These parts interact similarly to family members and may hold onto traumatic experiences.
How it helps: Through IFS, you will learn to understand, empathize with, and heal these wounded parts. By doing so, you can “reintegrate” them, leading to increased self-awareness, emotional healing, and a more harmonized inner system.
2. Somatic Experiencing (SE):
What it is: Developed by Dr. Peter Levine, SE focuses on the physical manifestations and sensations tied to trauma.
How it helps: SE helps you become more attuned to your body's signals, releasing the trapped energy of trauma and promoting self-regulation. By focusing on bodily sensations and guiding you through "titrated" experiences (small, manageable doses of the traumatic memory), SE can alleviate trauma symptoms.
3. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR):
What it is: Developed by Francine Shapiro, EMDR utilizes bilateral stimulation (often through guided eye movements) to process traumatic memories.
How it helps: EMDR allows you to reprocess traumatic memories, assigning them a new meaning or perspective. It can reduce the emotional charge of these memories, making them less distressing.
4. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT):
What it is: Created by Marsha Linehan, DBT blends cognitive-behavioral approaches with mindfulness strategies. It emphasizes acceptance and change.
How it helps: DBT provides tools for emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance. It's especially effective for you if you struggle with self-harming tendencies or suicidal thoughts, often linked to childhood trauma.
5. Narrative Therapy:
What it is: Narrative therapy, rooted in the works of Michael White and David Epston, sees individuals as the authors of their lives, viewing problems as separate from the person.
How it helps: By helping you "rewrite" your traumatic stories, narrative therapy empowers you to see events from new perspectives, finding strength and reclaiming your voice.
6. Attachment-Based Therapy:
What it is: This modality focuses on relational patterns established in childhood, influenced by early interactions with caregivers.
How it helps: By exploring and addressing these early attachment patterns, therapists can help you understand your relational behaviors, fostering secure attachments in adulthood.
7. Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT):
What it is: CPT is a specific type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that helps you process traumatic events and challenge distorted cognitions.
How it helps: By identifying and reframing maladaptive beliefs about the trauma, CPT allows you to build a new understanding, reducing feelings of self-blame and distress.
8. Psychodynamic Therapy:
What it is: Rooted in the teachings of psychoanalysis and figures like Freud, psychodynamic therapy emphasizes unconscious processes and the influence of the past on present behaviour.
How it helps: By exploring unresolved past issues and unconscious feelings, you can gain insight into your current behaviors and emotions, often tracing back to traumatic childhood events.
Each of these therapeutic modalities offers different tools and approaches. They each help you process, understand, and heal from the very real effects of childhood trauma. The best approach often depends on your specific needs, the nature of the trauma, and your personal preferences. An experienced therapist (like our roster of all-stars here at London Trauma Therapy) can guide you toward the modality (or combination of approaches) that may offer you the most profound healing.
There is no reason that you should continue to pay the price of events that were not your fault. Please know that help is available to you, and you are not alone. You can reach out to our team at any time, and we will help you find your way.
My team and I are cheering for you, always.