Treatment that Considers TraumaLiam Roybal
The following article will explain why it’s important that healthcare providers learn about Trauma-Informed Care (TIC), which means using an approach based upon sound science and best practices to identify people who may have experienced traumatic events. This identification allows mental health professionals to provide them with the support they need to improve their mental wellbeing.
The overall goal is to allow these individuals to thrive and eventually return to a normal way of life.
What Is Trauma-Informed Care?
“There are several ways we can prevent exposure to adverse experiences,” says Dr. Rebecca Spera, director of clinical services at the National Center for PTSD. “We can reduce risk by making choices during our daily activities.”
For instance, she suggests choosing not to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol in high-traffic areas, as this puts you more likely into a car accident. It’s also smart to avoid unsafe financial decisions such as borrowing money from predatory loan companies or trusting someone else with your personal information like Social Security numbers.
And if possible, don’t choose jobs that put you in dangerous circumstances. She adds, “If you do get exposed to something negative, try to minimize its impact through seeking professional counseling.”
Treating Trauma for Better Outcomes
To further explore the importance of TIC, let’s look at some common examples of trauma in the United States today. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one out of every four children has been diagnosed with ADHD.
One major study found that nearly half of all U.S. adolescents report having had suicidal thoughts. Another recent survey revealed that 20 percent of teens reported experiencing bullying, while almost 40 percent said they’ve felt depressed within the past year.
Additionally, only 38 percent of adults aged 18 to 29 years old feel very safe walking alone late at night, compared to 67 percent of those over age 30. More than 1 million youth experience sexual abuse annually, and according to a national survey, 14 percent of American teenagers admit to self-harm.
Sadly, suicide rates among young people ages 10 to 19 rose 50% between 1999 and 2014.
Trauma and Quality of Life
Clearly, there are plenty of reasons why it’s so essential that doctors and other medical professionals understand the connection between trauma and poor mental health outcomes. But what exactly is trauma?
Dr. Rebecca Spera defines trauma as any event that causes extreme fear or distress, interferes with functioning, disrupts relationships, and/or results in long-term difficulties. A person can be affected by multiple types of traumas throughout his or her lifetime—from car accidents to domestic violence to child neglect.
These events can occur anywhere, including schools, homes, workplaces, etc., but often happen most frequently at home due to intimate partner violence, family conflict, substance use, and elder abandonment.
People tend to either deny or downplay the effects of trauma, especially when it happens early in life. However, research shows that even small instances of trauma can negatively affect brain development, leading to behavioral issues later in adulthood.
The Importance of Addressing Root Causes
When talking about TIC, experts say that it helps to think beyond symptoms and treat the underlying causes. By doing so, TIC practitioners aim to provide holistic approaches to treating mental illness in general rather than focusing solely on specific side effects.
They believe that certain factors, such as poverty, discrimination, incarceration history, homelessness, addictions, and social isolation, make traumatized patients vulnerable and increase their likelihood of developing mental illnesses.
Therefore, it’s crucial to take steps to address underlying problems before addressing individual diagnoses. When done correctly, TIC reduces stigma around mental illness and allows patients to live healthier, happier lives.
What are the specific benefits of trauma-informed care?
Benefits of Trauma-Informed Treatment Models
Many studies show positive impacts when implementing TIC programs. Research indicates that TIC provides effective interventions for reducing anxiety associated with public speaking, improving communication skills, managing anger, increasing coping abilities, decreasing risky behaviors, and enhancing problem-solving skills.
Also, evidence suggests that TIC improves the quality of sleep, increases adherence to medications, decreases hospitalizations and readmissions, and lowers mortality rate.
These models have a record of improving toxic stress caused by sources of trauma.
Addressing Toxic Stress and Sources of Trauma
Toxic stress is the body’s inability to cope with trauma and other damaging events and feelings. When individuals undergo an extremely traumatic event, especially in childhood, the body loses its ability to deal with the stress caused by these events.
This is often carried into adulthood and is one of the leading factors for trauma-related mental disorders.
With regard to TIC, researchers say that it’s imperative to recognize potentially harmful triggers that could lead to complications from toxic stress, such as drug and alcohol abuse, gambling, compulsive shopping, sex addiction, criminal activity, eating disorders, pornography usage, lying, and hoarding.
Additionally, another key component of TIC involves identifying the root causes behind adverse childhood events (ACE) and creating tailored plans to reduce future risks. ACE refers to any potentially damaging event(s) that occurred during one’s developmental stages.
Adverse Childhood Events and Trauma
Such adversities can range from divorce, the death of a loved one, serious injury, witnessing domestic violence, and verbal abuse. Some of these events might seem minor, but repeated occurrences can trigger significant psychological damage and interfere with normal cognitive, social, and emotional growth.
For example, a growing body of literature demonstrates that ACE contributes significantly to increased vulnerability to psychiatric disorders, particularly depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and panic attacks. Researchers suggest that ACEs also plays a role in triggering neurodevelopmental changes and altering the structure of various parts of the brain.
Studies also indicate that ACEs can result in premature birth, low birth weight, and congenital malformations. Children born prematurely are much more susceptible to developing learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Family History and Generational Trauma
Furthermore, children whose parents were victims of alcoholism, abuse, or neglect are more likely to suffer from psychological complications, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).
Although ACEs are difficult to predict and pinpoint exactly what makes them worse, scientists have discovered that genetics probably plays a strong role. Specifically, genes are believed to directly interact with the environment and modulate biological responses to stressful stimuli.
Genes appear to determine whether a given individual will develop resilience or susceptibility to adverse childhood experiences. Because no two persons are alike, it follows that each person should receive personalized treatments for optimal recovery.
What needs to happen to create a safe environment for these individuals?
Creation of a Safe Environment
Creating a safe environment is critical for treating trauma-induced mental health disorders. A safe environment looks different for everyone. Depending on what the trauma includes, a safe environment includes the following:
- Areas free of any verbal and physical abuse.
- Areas free of loud noises and any other stress-inducing activities.
- An area surrounded by loved ones and trusted family members or friends.
- Direct access to their mental health counselors and therapists.
- An environment that promotes the ability to speak freely and vent regarding trauma.
Screening for trauma in treatment is important to remedy the underlying conditions that trauma leads to.
Screening for Trauma in Treatment
Screening for trauma in treatment is critical for providing the right level of care and appropriate therapeutic strategies to promote healing. The screening process can include a number of different methods and usually includes the following:
- Asking questions regarding childhood, past relationships, and other life events where trauma is usually present.
- Screen for symptoms including panic, anxiety, obsessions and compulsions, and side effects that are present with PTSD.
- Asking questions regarding how individuals behave in certain social situations.
- Finding out about a client’s history regarding substance abuse.
When the proper screening takes place, mental health professionals can employ the right forms of treatment that lead to healing and recovery.
The final point on the list above is critical, and often present in many trauma-related cases. Underlying trauma and substance abuse commonly go hand-in-hand, and identification is critical for treatment.
Underlying Trauma and Substance Abuse
The connection between trauma and substance abuse and other addictive tendencies is strong. Studies estimate that nearly half of all Americans struggle with an alcohol use disorder, and roughly 10% of U.S. citizens meet the criteria for an active drug dependence diagnosis.
Drug use is known to alter neural pathways in the reward system within our brains. More specifically, dopamine plays a crucial role in processing pleasure signals sent from receptors near neurons called Dopamine Receptors.
Drugs like cocaine increase the number of available Dopamine Receptors and consequently elevate pleasurable sensations associated with the release of neurotransmitters like endorphins and opiates. Alcoholics typically drink to cope with painful memories and stressful situations like those experienced during war combat or natural disasters.
Regardless of the specific situation, it seems that trauma commonly leads to substance abuse. It’s also possible for the reverse – substance abuse may also lead to trauma.
It’s important to find a source for dual-diagnosis treatment and other appropriate methods for treating trauma-related mental disorders.
Types of Therapy Used for Trauma
There are numerous psychotherapeutic modalities that employ different approaches to healing trauma. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) employs principles derived from Behaviorism and focuses on modifying cognitions, beliefs and behaviors in order to change overall patterns of thinking.
Exposure Therapies focus heavily on gradually exposing patients to triggers in hopes of desensitizing them to future traumas. Eye Movement Integration (EMI) utilizes slow rhythmic movements in conjunction with music to relax muscles and calm down stressed bodies.
Somatic Experiencing Therapy
Somatic Experiencing (SE) combines meditation, relaxation, and guided imagery into a single holistic approach for easing physical tension and releasing trapped energy. Dialectical Behaviors Therapy (DBT) incorporates elements of mindfulness training along with acceptance and commitment therapy that allows practitioners to deal with complicated issues surrounding shame, guilt, and embarrassment.
While various therapists employ several models, the bottom line is that successful treatments involve tailoring therapies to individual patient needs. No two persons are alike, and every case presents its unique set of variables.
Treatments should always be tailored to fit specific goals and preferences. That being said, a general rule of thumb is to choose a mode of psychotherapy that aligns well with your personal values. Also, keep in mind that certain modes of therapy work better with particular personality traits, whereas others may work better for others.
Successful Outcomes Using Trauma Treatment
At Icarus Behavioral Health, we have the resources to promote successful outcomes using trauma treatment. Our dedicated staff is experienced and knowledgeable and exhibits the passion and focus needed to help you overcome trauma-related issues.
If you’re ready to take back your life using the latest trauma-informed care and treatment, contact a member of our admissions team at Icarus Behavioral today.