What type of therapy is best for childhood trauma?
Childhood trauma refers to distressing experiences, such as abuse, neglect, or violence, that occurred during your formative years. But it can also encompass a range of other experiences that can have a lasting effect on your well-being. It can include being subjected to bullying or persistent teasing at school, feeling constantly invalidated or ignored when you expressed your emotions to a parent or caregiver, witnessing domestic violence within your family, or being exposed to substance abuse or addiction in your household. Other examples involve experiencing the sudden loss of a loved one, undergoing medical procedures or hospitalizations that were frightening or painful, or being involved in accidents or natural disasters.
The three types of trauma commonly recognized are:
- Acute Trauma: Refers to a single traumatic event or a series of events that occur within a short timeframe. For instance, being involved in a car accident, experiencing a natural disaster, or going through a sudden breakup, betrayal, or loss of a friendship.
- Chronic Trauma: Involves exposure to prolonged and repeated traumatic experiences over an extended period. While severe forms of abuse or violence are often associated with chronic trauma, it can also include more common experiences that occur within the context of ongoing relationships. For example, living in a consistently chaotic or unpredictable environment, having to mind-read, enduring persistent bullying or harassment, or growing up with emotionally neglectful parents.
- Complex Trauma: Occurs when an individual experiences multiple and varied traumatic events, particularly during childhood, within the context of an interpersonal relationship. While severe forms of abuse or neglect are commonly associated with complex trauma, it can also include less intense but repetitive experiences that affect a person's development and well-being. Examples include growing up in a household with constant family conflict, divorce, experiencing consistent emotional invalidation, or being exposed to chronic parental substance abuse or addiction.
What is the first line treatment for childhood PTSD?
- Play Therapy: Play therapy is often utilized with younger children to help them express their emotions and experiences through play. It provides a safe and non-threatening space for children to communicate and process their traumatic memories and feelings. Play therapists use various techniques, such as art, storytelling, or role-playing, to support healing and recovery.
- Somatic Experiencing (SE) and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: These therapies help individuals become more aware of their bodily sensations and learn to regulate them to reduce anxiety, stress, and trauma-related symptoms. Somatic therapy techniques may include breathing exercises, body awareness exercises, movement, and gentle touch to promote grounding, relaxation, and release of trauma-related energy.
Sensorimotor Psychotherapy specifically, combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with trauma-focused interventions, neuroscience and somatic interventions.
- Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT): TF-CBT is a structured form of therapy specifically designed to address the needs of those who have experienced trauma. It combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with trauma-focused interventions. TF-CBT aims to help children process their traumatic experiences, manage distressing emotions, challenge negative thoughts related to the trauma, and develop coping skills.
Although my private practice, Kostic Therapy in Denver, Colorado, specializes in helping adults only heal from Trauma and PTSD, here are some resources in Colorado for play therapy:
- Colorado Association for Play Therapy (COAPT): COAPT is a professional organization dedicated to promoting the use of play therapy in Colorado. They provide information, resources, and networking opportunities for play therapists and those interested in play therapy.
- Children's Hospital Colorado: Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora has a Play Therapy Program that provides therapeutic services for children facing medical challenges, trauma, or emotional difficulties. Their team of play therapists utilizes various play-based interventions to support children's healing and well-being.
Should You Go To Therapy For Childhood Trauma?
Seeking therapy can be immensely valuable if you have experienced childhood trauma. Let me share the story of one of my female clients, whom we'll call Krystal, to illustrate the potential benefits.
Krystal recently relocated here, Denver, Colorado, and decided to seek therapy to address the ongoing impact of bullying she endured during her high school years. Despite the physical distance from her past, Krystal found herself grappling with the emotional aftermath of those traumatic experiences and they manifested as insecurity, social anxiety and second guessing every bit of information she would share with a new friend.
Throughout our therapeutic journey, Krystal began to gain valuable insights into the negative beliefs she had developed as a result of the bullying. It had deeply affected her self-esteem, eroded her trust in others, and undermined her overall sense of safety. In addition to addressing the cognitive beliefs, we incorporated somatic interventions to support Krystal's healing process. We explored how the bullying experiences had manifested in her body, leading to symptoms such as chronic tension, hyper-vigilance, and a heightened stress response that easily pushed her out of her window of tolerance. What was fascinating from a therapist's perspective was watching the progression of her body language, as she would show up to sessions with her head down, fists clenched, and in a holding position. This slowly moved towards lowered shoulders, a relaxed, open posture and an ability to keep eye contact.
Over time, Krystal developed resilience and acquired healthier coping strategies. She learned to recognize and establish boundaries to protect herself from potential triggers and further harm. As therapy progressed, she experienced a gradual reduction in her symptoms and began to feel more confident, connected, and resilient. The therapeutic process not only facilitated her healing from the wounds of childhood bullying but also empowered her to embrace her new life in Denver with a renewed sense of hope and possibility.
No trauma is too small for therapy!
“I Believe in Therapy, but Can’t Remember Most of My Childhood. What Therapy is Good for Repressed Trauma?”
If you're struggling with repressed memories of your childhood and are seeking therapy to address potential trauma, there are therapeutic approaches specifically designed to help with repressed trauma. One such approach is called trauma-focused therapy, which includes techniques and interventions tailored to uncover and process traumatic memories that may have been repressed or forgotten.
An effective therapy for repressed trauma is Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. It is a specialized form of body-centered psychotherapy that can be highly beneficial for individuals who are struggling with repressed memories and trauma. This approach focuses on increasing awareness of bodily sensations as a means to unlock buried memories and emotions with gentleness. Through Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, you are encouraged to develop a deeper connection with your body and pay attention to the physical sensations that arise. This process can help facilitate the release of repressed memories and emotions that may have been stored in your body. By tuning into these bodily sensations, you can access information that may have been inaccessible to your conscious mind.
Another therapy that can be helpful for repressed trauma is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR therapy helps individuals access and process traumatic memories that may be hidden or blocked by the brain's natural defense mechanisms. Through guided eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation, EMDR facilitates the integration of distressing memories, thoughts, and emotions, enabling you to gain a clearer understanding of past events and promote healing.
Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFST) is a specific type of psychotherapy that focuses on traumatic experiences within individual, couple, and family contexts. It combines elements of "mind" and "systems thinking" to help individuals heal and navigate their internal family system. In IFST, the therapist assists you in understanding and working with different aspects of your internal system, such as your emotions, beliefs, and behaviors. The goal is to create a safe space for each part of you to express itself and be heard. By exploring and healing these internal dynamics, you can address repressed memories and trauma in a comprehensive and integrative manner.
Neurofeedback is another therapeutic approach that can be beneficial for individuals dealing with repressed memories. This technique focuses on correcting faulty electrical activity, specifically brain waves, within the cortex. Through neurofeedback, areas of the brain with abnormal brain wave patterns are identified and targeted for self-correction. By engaging in a feedback loop, you can learn to regulate and normalize these brain waves. As a result, this can facilitate the recovery of repressed memories and support overall healing.
My private practice, located in the neighborhood of Greenwood Village in Denver, Colorado, specializes inSensorimotor Psychotherapy.