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Recovering From Past Trauma: 8 Things Parents of Young Adults Can Do to Be Supportive

People who have experienced a traumatic event in their childhood such as a natural disaster, assault, or childhood abuse are survivors who often struggle in recovering during their adolescence and young adulthood. Surviving trauma is not the same as recovering, and if you talk to trauma survivors, then you may find that there is an underlined desire for healing. Healing from a traumatic event is an individual process that is different for everyone. Recovering from a childhood trauma is being able to live in the present without being overwhelmed and distressed by thoughts and feelings of the past. It’s normal for parents of young adults and teens hold onto the hope that their child will be okay and able to move forward in a loving and respectful relationship, a stable career, and on the path of starting a family. It’s possible for young people to heal from past trauma if they are ready to begin their healing process, and there are important things for parents to know.

How Trauma Affects Young Adults

What’s often misunderstood about trauma is that everyone who experiences a traumatic event will have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Truth be told, while many young people will experience stress following the aftermath of trauma, few develop the full range of symptoms that include hypervigilance, and a significant decline in functioning in everyday life. While there is truth to the old saying that “time heals all wounds”, healing from painful emotions of the traumatic event often requires working actively to address what happened in therapy and process it emotionally.

Young adult and adolescent survivors of trauma are often deeply affected long after the traumatic event, and distressing feelings and memories of the event can be replayed over in their minds. Issues that arise from unresolved trauma can be having difficulty with setting boundaries with others, which can either prevent them from developing close relationships out of fear of being hurt, or beginning a relationship with anyone who shows them interest. Survivors of early childhood trauma can often experience episodes of depression that are marked with difficulty in sleeping, and possibly blaming themselves for what happened to them.

Their Reaction is Normal

Young adults can sometimes feel as though their lives are out of control, and they can feel ashamed that they are struggling for months, or even years after a traumatic event because they may feel as though they should get over it. Messages from people around us (often well-intentioned) support that belief and feeling of shame. Some may even desire to put it behind them and get back to how things were in life before their trauma. Acknowledging what happened is something that can give young people a sense of relief that they are not crazy, but rather experiencing something real.

There are 8 things that parents of teens and young adults need to know in being supportive in the healing process of past trauma.

1. Get Informed

Becoming informed about how trauma affects people will not only give you a better understanding of what symptoms of PTSD look like, but also a greater amount of compassion and connection. Having information about what types of treatment are available can also strengthen your role as their support system.

2. Acknowledge What They Share

When the time comes for your loved one to share their story with you about what happened, the most important thing you can do is to acknowledge and validate how they feel about the experience. What this means is to listen attentively without judging how they feel about it, or giving advice with how they should feel. Sometimes you don’t need to say much of anything, but rather assure them that it’s okay to feel however they are feeling in that moment.

3. Learn the Virtue of Patience

Patience for a loved one comes from understanding and compassion. People with traumatic experiences can often have other issues they struggle with such as substance abuse and problems having stable relationships. So many parents become burned out by how their teen or adult children act out. Self-destructive behavior can result in parents unintentionally becoming enablers or shutting out their loved ones out of their lives. Being patient and firm with boundaries is something that can help someone with trauma and other co-occurring issues to seek professional help.

4. Prepare for Crisis

People who struggle with past trauma will most often also struggle with depression. If your teen or adult child talks about having thoughts about killing themselves, then be ready to take immediate action to get them help. Getting connected with a mental health professional early can help to reduce the chances of suicidal ideation.

5. Expect and Accept Change

Accepting that with working through trauma issues, there are likely to be changes in the relationship that you have with your loved one. Establishing boundaries in family relationships and talking about how they feel and think about their lives can change how they see themselves, others, and the choices they make.

6. Allow Your Loved One to Work through the Process

It can be very frustrating for a parent wishing for their loved one to be okay and free from the distress of painful memories and emotions. If your teen or adult child is actively involved in treatment for their trauma, then trust in them being a survivor who is taking control of their lives and their ability to heal, and respect that it will take time to heal. There is no time-table for how long it can take for someone to work through past trauma, and they will get there when they are ready.

7. Don’t Push Your Loved One Before They Are Ready

Pushing your loved one to do something or feel something before they are ready can backfire and create distance. Parents of teens and young adults can sometimes project their own feelings onto their loved one. Make sure that while you are being supportive of their healing process, that you are tending to your own emotions and taking ownership of it. If your loved one was physically or sexually abused, it’s normal to feel anger, but keep that away from them having to deal with it.

8. Encourage Your Loved One to Work with a Therapist

Finding a mental health professional that specializes in trauma, and who your loved one feels comfortable working with can be a big step in addressing past trauma. There are many evidenced based approaches that therapists use in assisting clients in working through trauma. One approach is Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), that focuses on the wide range of emotional and behavioral problems associated with single, multiple and complex trauma experiences. Another effective approach in particular is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which uses a person’s own rapid, rhythmic eye movements to reduce the intensity of emotionally charged memories of the traumatic experience.

Parents of teens and young adults can feel helpless in not knowing how to help their loved ones. Becoming informed about how trauma affects people and what they can do to be supportive in their healing process, can make a big difference. If you know someone who is living with a past or recent trauma, then reach out and talk with them about it and encourage them to seek professional help.

“We acquire the strength we have overcome.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

3 Ways Trauma-Informed Curricula Help With Addiction Recovery

It is well-known that trauma and addiction are closely linked. Years of clinical research have demonstrated that many individuals who struggle with addiction report exposure to trauma during the course of their lives. It is not uncommon for those dealing with addictions to have experienced any of the following: prolonged physical, emotional or sexual abuse during childhood, adolescence and/or adulthood; profound neglect; long-term exposure to violence, war or terrorism; and the chronic long-term health problems associated with these things.

Even though the link between addiction and trauma is well known and well documented, the use of trauma-informed curricula in addiction recovery is relatively new to the field. But ongoing studies — as well as the recent availability of reliable, evidence-based curricula for men and women — are showing that this approach to addiction recovery has wide-ranging benefits.

What is unique about this kind of care? And how can a trauma-informed curriculum help people achieve sustained recovery? Here are three characteristics that a trauma-informed curriculum brings to individuals seeking help with addiction (and to the organizations and health workers who are facilitating that recovery):

1.) Trauma-informed care is based on years of rigorous research, theory and clinical practice. It offers a clear, thorough understanding of the many complex ways that trauma affects individuals over a lifetime — psychologically, biologically and even neurologically. A trauma-informed recovery curriculum designed around this research and understanding acknowledges that addiction does not occur in a vacuum, but is accompanied by many interconnected relational, familial and cultural factors.

2.) Research shows that trauma alters brain chemistry and profoundly shapes the way people experience and interact with the world. A trauma-informed care system acknowledges that certain interventions, actions and language can re-traumatize an individual and trains facilitators and staff members how to avoid these things. For example, aggressive posturing can cause a participant to instinctively re-live violence experienced at the hand of an abuser. By contrast, curricula that understand the experience of trauma seek to engage participants in ways that create a safe, supportive environment and that minimize the chance of re-traumatization. When a service recipient knows first and foremost that she is in a safe place, she will be much more likely to be open to treatment options. A trauma-informed curriculum is collaborative, inclusive and intentionally aware of the experience of the addict. It does not focus on the question, What’s wrong with you? Rather, it asks, What has happened to you?

3.) A trauma-informed curriculum addresses aspects of the full human experience: emotional, physical, intellectual, cultural, spiritual, sexual and relational. Rather than assuming a one-size-fits-all treatment program, it takes into account the unique challenges that come with things like personal histories, gender expectations, generational addiction and abuse, and the ongoing journey of making peace with our pasts and ourselves. This holistic approach to treatment provides an opportunity for deeper self-awareness and allows those seeking recovery to identify triggers that can result in relapse. It also creates the possibility not just for recovery from addiction, but for true healing and movement towards a genuine wholeness.

Studies show that, beyond simply being a unique approach to recovery, using a trauma-informed curriculum in addiction recovery programs produces concrete results for both participants and staff members. Staff morale goes up and turnover rates decrease, as do incidents of injury and violence in treatment centers. Those seeking recovery are more likely to adhere to treatment programs, and sustained recovery rates increase.

Complex Trauma Or DESNOS Increasing in Inpatient Eating Disordered Populations

In inpatient settings I have been seeing much more serious trauma in clients who are currently admitting for treatment. In fact we’re seeing so much trauma that we think that all clinicians should be trained in EMDR, one of the most effective trauma interventions used at this time. Experienced clinicians are needed when it comes to working with PTSD and childhood trauma and they should have the best tools available. Because so many people with trauma are admitting with severe trauma, I have been doing vast amounts of research on new information available in regards to trauma and its treatment.

I have found that the subject of complex trauma or DESNOS, a diagnosis of extreme stress not otherwise specified is in fact much more common than a diagnosis of straight PTSD.

PTSD was originally developed as a diagnosis in the 1970s to explain the symptomology of Vietnam veterans returning home after the war. Research has shown that men are traumatized most frequently by accidents, war, assaults, and natural disasters, single event occurrences.

Women are most frequently traumatized by childhood sexual abuse. B.A. van der Kolk (2005) reported that between 17 and 33% of women in the general population had histories of sexual-physical abuse while women who were in psychiatric treatment reported 35 to 50%.

PTSD has captured only a partial snapshot of posttraumatic psychopathology. The PTSD diagnosis does not capture the facets of long-term, repeated trauma. People with a history of physical and sexual abuse over long periods of time report many psychological problems such as substance abuse, borderline and antisocial personality disorders, eating disorders, impulsivity, self-mutilation and suicidality. They will be chronically depressed with dissociative episodes of varying lengths of time. Extreme aggression and impulse control difficulties are also present.

PTSD clinically has referred to these other problems as co-morbid conditions, as if they have occurred apart from the PTSD symptoms. As a result the authors of the DSM-IV began to separate these other symptoms under a category of extreme stress not otherwise specified (DESNOS). They found that the earlier the trauma the more severe the symptoms of DESNOS. Studies also have shown that it is possible to experience DESNOS without having PTSD, certainly above and beyond PTSD.

DESNOS represents a psychological injury from long-term social and/or interpersonal trauma that is characterized by lack or loss of control, disempowerment, and the victim is unable to escape.

In many situations such as caring for a mentally ill person at home, a care- giver may develop symptoms themselves of traumatic stress from prolonged exposure to traumatic stress.

When a patient admits to treatment, pre-treatment testing is needed, such as the Beck Depression Inventory, the Eating Disorder Inventory III, the SCL-90 including testing for trauma and dissociation. If the client has a history of trauma, clinicians should immediately focus on stabilization techniques.

The therapist must have the attitude that nothing is more important than safety and stability. The therapist must assume the role of teacher or guide for the client. Trauma survivors cannot teach themselves how to be safe and stable because

they have no baseline, no meaningful experience of what the words “safe ” or “stable” mean. This is where a strong, centered, grounded therapist is necessary to be the teacher. They help the client learn to ground herself and to find a safe place where she can go and be protected under any circumstances.

The therapist teaches the client that no recovery from trauma is possible without paying attention to issues of safety, learning to care for herself, making connections to other human beings, and a finding a renewed faith in the universe. The therapist’s job is not just to be a witness to this process but to teach the patient how.