Recognizing and Processing Trauma
In the treatment of substance use and eating disorders, much of our work involves processing trauma. In fact, an estimated two thirds of all individuals suffering from substance use disorder have experienced some type of trauma. Furthermore, a 2012 study by Mitchell et al found that the “vast majority of women and men with anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), and binge eating disorder (BED) reported a history of interpersonal trauma.” The success of our substance use and eating disorder treatment programs depends on our ability to recognize trauma and teach our clients how to cope with these experiences that turn into recurring nightmares.
The DSM Definition and PTSD
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition doesn’t define trauma. Rather, it offers triggers of post-traumatic stress disorder. These include events involving exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violation. Furthermore, the triggered individual must either experience the event directly, witness it in person, learn that it occurred to a close family member or friend, or experience repeated exposure to details of the event. While these parameters might line up closely with public perceptions of what trauma means, in our experience, they fall short.
Adverse Childhood Experiences
Much of the trauma we see in treatment occurs early in life. Because children’s minds are so young and vulnerable, they are especially susceptible to being affected by adverse events. As a result, these events require a wider set of criteria. The CDC, along with Kaiser, developed a list of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. These include physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; and household dysfunction, specifically mental illness, substance use, domestic violence, divorce, and an incarcerated relative. A joint 1998 CDC-Kaiser study revealed that just four of these events can increase a child’s risk of behavioral, mental, and physical health issues later in life.
Too Horrible for Words
Trauma is an experience that is too horrible to put into words. When we experience an event like this, our brains go into overdrive trying to find a way to organize that event as words fail them. Furthermore, triggers will keep bringing the mind back to that experience until we find a place for it. This is where therapy comes in. Therapists work to help us process the event and understand our intense feelings about it. Techniques such as dialectical behavior therapy are extremely effective at teaching emotional regulation and distress tolerance. These are excellent coping skills to help us manage our response to triggers.
Real Courage Means Asking for Help
Ocean Recovery has been successfully treating trauma and its products, substance abuse, eating, and co-occurring disorders, since 2002. Our nationally-recognized Newport Beach, California facility offers dialectical behavior therapy in our individual and group counseling sessions, along with addiction education, nutritional therapy, yoga, and more. We treat trauma at its roots with our “whole-person” approach to mental health. If you or someone you know is suffering from unhealed trauma, please consider seeking professional assistance. Our specialists are standing by to help you start the admissions process. Real courage means asking for help. Ocean Recovery is ready to answer.