It’s estimated that two-thirds of all children will experience at least one traumatic event by the time they turn 16. Childhood trauma can come in many different forms, and traumatic childhood experiences sometimes have a lasting impact on a person's mental health.
The good news is that working with trauma therapists who specialize in treating trauma-related conditions may be highly beneficial for those living with the effects of trauma.
If past traumatic experiences negatively impact your well-being and daily life, here is information you need to know about the trauma treatments provided by childhood trauma therapists.
Understanding childhood trauma
Childhood trauma stems from traumatic events experienced as a child that were frightening, dangerous, or violent.
When trauma is experienced by a child whose brain, personality, and worldview are all still developing, the impact can be especially severe and long-lasting. In fact, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have been found to be associated with eight of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States (including suicide) and can shorten a person's lifespan by as much as 19 years.
Common examples of childhood trauma
There are numerous types of trauma commonly experienced by children. Some of the common examples of childhood trauma include:
- Sexual abuse: It’s estimated that about one in four girls and one in 13 boys in the United States experience child sexual abuse, making this one of the most common forms of childhood trauma.
- Witnessing domestic violence: Intense episodes of domestic violence can be highly traumatic experiences for children — even if they are not the direct victim of the violence.
- Loss of a loved one: Losing someone such as a parent or sibling can have a serious impact on a child, especially if the circumstances of their death are particularly violent or traumatic.
- Bullying: In severe cases, the physical and emotional abuse associated with bullying can create complex trauma in an individual, which stems from exposure to multiple traumatic events.
- Natural disasters: Natural disasters such as tornadoes, fires, and floods can be highly traumatic events. The same is true for a variety of other disastrous events, including violent crimes, terrorist attacks, and vehicle accidents.
The impact childhood trauma has on individuals
People who have experienced traumatic events as a child may be more prone to a range of mental and physical health issues. Symptoms may include an inability to express and manage emotions, increased stress and anxiety, difficulty concentrating, low self-esteem, and difficulty sleeping.
Many times, people living with the symptoms of trauma don’t recognize that childhood trauma is the source of their mental and physical health issues. Helping people identify the childhood trauma that is the root cause of issues experienced as an adult is therefore often one of the primary goals of clinicians practicing trauma therapy.
Other health conditions that may stem from trauma
Along with causing more general emotional and behavioral issues, childhood trauma can directly lead to a variety of specific mental health conditions:
- Anxiety disorders
- Panic attacks
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse
- Specific phobias
Therapeutic techniques for healing childhood trauma
Mental health professionals who specialize in treating childhood trauma will commonly employ a variety of techniques in therapy sessions with their clients, including:
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)
CPT originated as a derivative of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It’s designed to treat trauma-related conditions such as PTSD. The goal of CPT is to reframe the way you process past traumas in order to reduce the negative impact those traumas have on your current emotional well-being.
A therapist using CPT to treat childhood trauma will engage you in talk therapy. These guided conversations are intended to help you identify and examine your thoughts and beliefs related to the trauma you experienced.
Once trauma-related cognitive distortions such as guilt or negative self-perceptions have been identified, a therapist will then work to help you eliminate the beliefs and thought patterns that are negatively impacting your mental health.
Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT)
TF-CBT is another branch of cognitive behavioral therapy commonly used to treat childhood trauma. It is an evidence-based therapeutic technique that combines elements of CBT with trauma-focused interventions.
TF-CBT is commonly used to treat children and adolescents who have experienced trauma but can be used to treat adults with childhood trauma as well. The goal of TF-CBT is to help you understand and process your traumatic experiences while also providing coping skills and strategies that you can use to manage negative thoughts and emotions.
Narrative exposure therapy (NET)
NET was originally developed as a short-term intervention for treating PTSD and other trauma-related conditions. This therapeutic approach is based on the idea that storytelling and forming traumatic experiences into a coherent narrative can help you better process the traumas that they have experienced.
NET involves having a therapist guide you through a chronological retelling of your traumatic event(s). During this conversation, the therapist will work to help you put the events into a healthier context and perspective. NET also commonly includes externalization techniques designed to help you distance yourself from the trauma along with other coping strategies.
Prolonged exposure therapy (PE)
Avoidance and emotional numbing are two of the most common responses that people have to trauma. In the long term, however, this is not a healthy way of dealing with traumatic experiences. Prolonged exposure therapy is designed to help you confront and process your traumatic experiences rather than avoid them.
In PE, you may be asked to vividly and repeatedly recount your traumatic experiences — or be exposed to situations and activities you’ve been avoiding due to your trauma. During and following these exposure exercises, a therapist practicing PE will help you process your thoughts and emotional reactions to identify and challenge the negative thoughts and beliefs that are causing you distress.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is a form of psychotherapy that is designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. During EMDR sessions, a therapist will instruct you to focus on the memories of your trauma while engaging in bilateral stimulation (which usually involves following your therapist's finger movements with your eyes).
It is thought that this bilateral stimulation engages biological mechanisms similar to those that are associated with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, causing you to process traumatic memories differently than normal. This may help you form new associations and insights regarding your trauma and has been found to reduce the vividness and intensity of traumatic memories.
The therapist's perspective
Childhood trauma can be a lot like a physical wound; if it is left untreated, it tends to fester and scar, causing long-lasting mental health issues. Unfortunately, many people are ill-equipped to deal with childhood trauma on their own, leading to wounds that never properly heal.
This is why therapy may be highly beneficial for anyone who has experienced severe childhood trauma. A childhood trauma therapist can help heal the wounds of childhood trauma by using a variety of proven therapeutic techniques such as those that we covered above. This can provide numerous benefits to your mental health and quality of life, helping you overcome trauma-related mental health conditions and move on from the trauma you experienced.
Find a childhood trauma therapist today with SonderMind
Childhood trauma is a serious risk factor for numerous mental health conditions and is something that requires the help of a trained and experienced therapist to treat. If you would like to find an online or in-person childhood trauma therapist to help you heal from the trauma you've experienced, SonderMind can help.
With SonderMind, you'll match with a licensed childhood trauma therapist who is ideally suited to your individual needs and preferences in as little as 24 hours. To get started healing the past and embarking on your journey to a brighter future, get matched today.