Overcoming Your Fear of Addressing Childhood Trauma
Childhood trauma can have a profound impact on psychological wellbeing and is associated with a host of mental health disorders. Unfortunately, many avoid treatment due to a deep fear of talking about traumatic experiences. However, establishing a healthy therapeutic alliance with a therapist that specializes in childhood trauma treatment and engaging in non-verbal trauma-focused therapies can help you take the first steps toward healing. Intensive residential treatment programs that understand the unique needs of people struggling with childhood trauma may offer the best setting to begin your recovery journey.
For some, childhood trauma stands as a single event, confined to the space of days or hours, sometimes just minutes. For others, trauma was sustained throughout childhood, woven into daily life. Regardless of the specific nature of your traumatic childhood experiences, the impact can be profound, deeply disrupting your emotional, cognitive, and psychosocial development and manifesting in a host of mental health disorders. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, mood disorders, anxiety disorder, dissociative disorder, and personality disorders may all arise from unresolved childhood trauma, sometimes years after the traumatic events.
Despite this close relationship between childhood trauma and mental health disorders, some people struggling with psychological distress are reluctant to seek help due to fear of having to talk about trauma in treatment. Others do seek treatment for their primary mental illness, but do not disclose their traumatic pasts for fear that bringing up these experiences will re-traumatize them. Unfortunately, both approaches ultimate leave your trauma unaddressed, keeping you from truly healing. Participating in specialized childhood trauma treatment delivered by clinicians who understand your fears can help you forge a path to lasting recovery.
The Importance of the Therapeutic Alliance
The psychological scars created by trauma can run deep and severely impact your emotional and behavioral health in various ways. Today, however, we have a deeper understanding of how to treat trauma and related mental illnesses than ever before. From cognitive behavioral therapy to mindfulness-based practices, there are myriad modalities that help people who have experienced childhood trauma resolve their pasts, develop meaningful coping skills, and move forward.
Of course, therapy of any form only works if you feel comfortable participating in that therapy. While reluctance to open up about childhood trauma is a natural instinct for many, talking about your experiences is an essential part of the healing process and the only way to meaningfully participate in many treatment modalities. In order to make the therapeutic process as safe, inviting, and positive as possible, it’s essential to develop a strong therapeutic alliance with your therapist.
A strong therapeutic alliance doesn’t simply mean that you like your therapist, although that can be an important component. Dr. Deborah L. Cabaniss describes the therapeutic alliance as “the trust between you and your therapist that allows you to work together effectively. It’s what helps you to believe that your therapist is trustworthy and has your best interest at heart.” In a positive therapeutic relationship, you share a connection with your therapist that helps you feel understood, validated, and supported. You have common perspectives and goals that give you a sense of mutual therapeutic purpose and you agree on how you will create meaningful change.
Building that relationship, of course, takes time. A skilled therapist will not expect you to disclose the details of your trauma until you feel comfortable enough to do so. Instead, they will work with you to create the foundation for a strong working relationship in which you feel nurtured and supported and for which there is space for you to talk about your childhood trauma when you are ready. When you do disclose, your therapist will act as a guide as you navigate painful feelings and memories, giving you the resources you need to stay safe.
Therapists who specialize in childhood trauma treatment understand both the importance of a positive therapeutic alliance and the challenges you may face in establishing such an alliance. As such, they can take special care to create a foundation of trust and safety with you from the very beginning, always mindful of your individual limits, preferences, and personality. Not only is this vital to helping you feel safe enough to address your traumatic experiences in treatment, research also consistently shows that positive therapeutic relationships are associated with better outcomes for a range of mental health disorders, even disorders considered particularly difficult to treat, such as borderline personality disorder and dissociative disorders.
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The Possibilities of Non-Verbal Trauma-Focused Therapies
While processing your trauma verbally will likely be an important part of your recovery process, it’s also important to know that there are trauma-focused therapies that can allow you to explore traumatic experiences and reactions non-verbally. These include:
Somatic Experiencing: Somatic Experiencing helps you release traumatic energy, improve emotional regulation, and unlock your innate healing abilities. Your therapist will guide you toward greater awareness of your physical sensations and responses and direct you to engage in physical movements designed to relieve destructive energy, access new emotions, and reframe your relationship with your experiences. If you are comfortable speaking about your trauma, your therapist may involve you in a discussion about your traumatic experiences. However, the therapy doesn’t necessitate this conversation; you can benefit from Somatic Experiencing without verbally addressing the direct source of your distress.
Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR): When a person experiences trauma, the brain is sometimes not able to process information in a healthy way, causing lasting emotional and behavioral disturbances. EMDR helps you re-process and re-contextualize traumatic experiences using directed eye movements to unlock damaging emotional and behavioral patterns and replace them with healthier alternatives. You do not have to directly talk about your traumatic memories if you do not feel comfortable doing so; EMDR can be an empowering process even if you do not verbalize specific memories.
Engaging in Somatic Experiencing and EMDR can help you increase bodily awareness, take control of your emotional responses, and form new coping skills in a safe way before you are ready to talk about your trauma in other therapeutic contexts. While these therapies can have significant benefits in and of themselves, they can also help you feel more in control of your responses to trauma and lessen the probability of re-traumatization when you do begin to explore your experiences in other therapeutic modalities. As such, they can set the stage for deeper engagement across therapies.
The Benefits of Residential Treatment
Healing from childhood trauma and related mental illnesses can require intensive treatment in order to create rapid healing. As such, residential treatment programs that offer specialized trauma-focused programming are often ideal environments in which to begin the recovery process. The immersive nature of these programs allows you to quickly establish trusting relationships with your therapists while engaging in a broad spectrum of evidence-based modalities designed to meet your unique needs. This multidimensional treatment process gives you the opportunity to draw from the best of each modality to create a transformative treatment experience.
While the opportunity to quickly establish positive therapeutic alliances and engage in multiple therapies is invaluable for recovery, residential treatment programs also do something else for people struggling with childhood trauma: they provide a safe space in which you are allowed to focus entirely on your own recovery. You do not have to worry about pulling yourself together to face your kids after a therapy session or go to work still thinking about the traumatic memory you spoke out loud for the very first time just hours ago. Instead, you are allowed to simply be with your feelings, knowing that you are safe and supported by expert clinicians and peers who understand and respect your struggle. Giving yourself permission to devote yourself fully to healing without the obligations, stresses, and triggers of everyday life can be a tremendously powerful experience.
Addressing childhood trauma in treatment can indeed be frightening. But with the right therapies delivered by compassionate clinicians who respect your needs and your limits, you can forge a path toward a new, brighter future in which your trauma no longer controls you.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with childhood trauma and mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.