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Why Healing Childhood Trauma Needs a Different Approach

While all forms of trauma are significant and require healing, there is a distinct challenge when it comes to treating childhood trauma. Let's explore the factors that make childhood trauma harder to treat than other forms of trauma and the importance of understanding these differences in the healing process.

The Unique Nature of Childhood Trauma

When we speak of childhood trauma, we are generally talking about difficult moments in our developmental years, in which we experience neglect, abuse or distressing events. While many people think childhood trauma is rare, it's actually quite prevalent, with about 61% of adults in America reporting at least 1 adverse childhood exp

erience (CDC, 2023).

When we experience trauma while still growing and developing, we require a different path to healing than traumas that occur when the brain is fully developed.

A young boy has fallen on the road and is clutching his knee in pain

The Attachment System

One of the primary reasons childhood trauma is harder to treat lies in its impact on a person's attachment system. During childhood, the attachment system forms the basis of a person's ability to connect with others and navigate relationships. When this system is disrupted by trauma, it can lead to significant challenges in forming healthy, secure attachments later in life.

Childhood trauma can affect attachment in several ways:

  1. Insecure Attachment Styles: Many individuals who have endured childhood trauma develop insecure attachment styles. They may struggle with trust, closeness, and emotional intimacy, which can affect their ability to form healthy relationships.

  2. Fear of Vulnerability: Childhood trauma often results in a deep-seated fear of vulnerability and emotional intimacy. This fear can be a significant barrier to therapy and healing.

  3. Coping Mechanisms: To survive in traumatic environments, children often develop coping mechanisms that may no longer serve them in adulthood. These coping strategies alter the therapeutic process because they are often ingrained and tricky to shift away from.

The Impact on Brain Development

Childhood trauma has a profound impact on brain development. The developing brain is highly adaptable and can rewire itself in response to experiences. This is a wonderful thing and is part of how we as humans adapt and survive. However, when rewiring happens due to trauma, it leaves the brain more prone to stress and more likely to struggle with emotional regulation.

Childhood trauma impacts the brain in a few key ways:

  1. Hyperactivity of the amygdala: The amygdala, which is involved in processing emotions, can become hyperactive. This can lead to increased fear responses and difficulty in regulating emotions.

  2. Altered hippocampal structure: The hippocampus, important for memory and learning, is often rewired during childhood trauma. Changes in its structure have been linked to difficulties in forming new memories and managing stress.

  3. Changes in the prefrontal cortex: The prefrontal cortex, involved in decision-making and impulse control, may be impacted by childhood trauma. This can lead to difficulties in regulating behavior and emotions.

  4. Dysregulation of the stress response system: Childhood trauma can dysregulate the body's stress response system, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This can lead to chronic stress and increased vulnerability to mental health issues.

When a developing brain endures trauma, it responds differently than a fully developed adult brain. It perceives the trauma as a time when it must adapt to the environment, potentially altering the trajectory of development. This can lead to long-lasting changes in the brain's structure and function, making the effects of childhood trauma uniquely challenging to address.

A young child sits on a fallen tree in the woods, with his head down, resting in his hand.

The Role of Therapy

Effective therapy is can be massively helpful in healing of childhood trauma recovery, but it must be tailored to address the specific challenges posed by childhood trauma. Some therapeutic approaches that can help in treating childhood trauma include:

  1. Attachment-Based Therapy: This form of therapy focuses on repairing and strengthening the individual's attachment system to facilitate healthier relationships.

  2. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing): EMDR can help individuals process traumatic memories and rewire their emotional responses.

  3. Somatic therapy: The boy holds on to our traumatic memories; somatic works helps both the body and the mind process and release the trauma 

  4. Parts Therapy: These therapies understand that we are all made up of many parts that each have different goals and desires. By working collaboratively with all parts of ourselves, we can create deep change. 

If you or someone you know has experienced childhood trauma and is seeking support, our team of therapist specialize in trauma, and have a deep understanding of how chilhood trauma must be addressed differently. Reach out today and schedule your first session. 


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