Archive of ‘Trauma’ category

Domestic Violence Affects Children

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and in light of that I would like to take time today to talk about the red flags of abuse in regards to children. Research has shown that children who grow up in homes in which domestic violence takes place experience the effects of the violence, even if they don’t always see it or experience any direct abuse themselves. Today I’m going to discuss the ways in which domestic violence affects children and how these are often expressed in children.

Violence Affects Children Emotionally


  • Guilt
    – Children may feel responsible for the violence.
  • Shame – Children often believe that it does not happen anywhere else.
  • Fear – of expressing feelings, of divorce or separation, of injury.
  • Confusion – Children feel confused as to whether to love or hate the abuser, and often vacillate between the two.
  • Anger – about the violence, about the lack of safety in the home.
  • Grief – over family loss issues.
  • Burdened – over appropriate role as caretaker. With this role reversal, often an older child is forced to accept responsibility for the care of younger siblings and of the household due to the parents’ inability to fulfill these functions. The child may never have the opportunity to participate in normal childhood activities.

Violence Affects Children Behaviorally

  • Children may act out or withdraw and isolate.When it comes to isolation and withdrawal, this behavior seldom attracts attention, so these children may not be identified as troubled.
  • Children may overcompensate by overachieving or underachieving.
  • Children may refuse to go to school – They may believe that if they stay home their presence will keep the fighting under control, or that peers will recognize the physical abuse, emotional deprivation, or sexual abuse.
  • Children may exhibit care taking behaviors – they worry about the needs of others more than their own needs.
  • Children may become aggressive or overly passive.
  • Children may have rigid defenses – being aloof, sarcastic, blaming, or defensive.
  • Children may engage in attention seeking behaviors.
  • Children may start wetting the bed or have nightmares.
  • Children may appear chaotic and it may be hard to set limits with them. This is often because their emotional state is so chaotic and disregulated due to not knowing what is happening at home or when the violence will occur.
  • Children may run away, viewing this as their only alternative for escaping an unbearable home situation.
  • Older children from violent families may engage in excessive use of alcohol or drugs. This behavior is often, but not always, modeled after their parents’ behavior and is viewed as a psychological escape from their problems.
  • When these children become adolescents or adults, they may turn on their parents and become aggressive towards them. Also, when they are adults, they may abuse their own children or spouses.

Violence Affects Children Physically

  • Children will often exhibit somatic complaints, such as headaches, stomach aches, and asthma.
  • Children may appear nervous, anxious, and have a short attention span.
  • Children may be lethargic and this may appear as laziness.
  • Children may get sick often with colds, flu, etc.
  • Children may neglect their personal hygiene.
  • Children may regress in developmental tasks – bed wetting, thumb sucking, clinging, etc.

Violence Affects Children Socially

  • Children may isolate, either having no friends or they may be distant in their friendships.
  • Relationships with friends may start intensely and end abruptly.
  • Children may have difficulty trusting others.
  • Children may exhibit poor conflict resolution skills.
  • Children may be excessively socially involved (to stay away from the home).
  • Children may be passive with others and/or seek power to be the aggressor.

Violence Affects Children Cognitively

  • Children may learn to blame others for their behaviors.
  • Children may believe it is okay to hit others to get what you want, to express anger, to feel powerful, to get their needs met.
  • Children may have a low self-concept.
  • Children may learn not to ask for what they need.
  • Again, children may learn not to trust (because of unkept promises to change).
  • Children may believe that to feel angry is bad.
  • Children may come to believe in rigid gender roles.

Domestic Violence Affects Children

It is not necessary for all of these to be present, but these are certainly some of the red flags to look out for if you suspect a child may be in a violent home environment. It is important to be on the child’s side. More often than not when many of these behaviors are exhibited, especially those that are viewed as unacceptable and disruptive at school, the child gets punished and their parents are called. It is important to be there for the child and to talk to them about how sometimes when there is trouble at home, children respond in this way. This may give you an opening for the child to be vulnerable enough to trust you that these behaviors are not necessarily their fault – that they are reacting to chaos and danger at home. This can also help them let go of some shame they might have about how they are behaving and interacting with the world, giving them understanding as to why they are responding so.

If you believe that a child might be in danger or might be witnessing or experiencing violence at home, do not hesitate to contact the following resources:

9-1-1 – your local police department.

Lifeworks – http://www.lifeworksaustin.org

Safe Place – http://www.safeplace.org

The Center for Child Protection – http://www.centerforchildprotection.org

Child Protective Services – https://www.dfps.state.tx.us/child_protection/


Why Choose EMDR Therapy?

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC

Since the birth of the psychological field, there have been dozens of therapeutic approaches that have been developed to help individuals work through their struggles. One therapy that is relatively new, at least in relation to how long others have been around, is known as a therapy called EMDR. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. I’m going to tell you a little bit about what EMDR is and how it can be used in therapy to treat a wide array of difficulties.

What is EMDR?

EMDR is a therapy developed by psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1989. In 1987 Dr. Shapiro stumbled upon the observation that eye movements can lessen the intensity of disturbing thoughts and used this observation to fuel research that led to her publication in The Journal of Traumatic Stress, establishing EMDR as a therapy used to treat post traumatic stress. Since then researchers have gone on to show how EMDR is not only very effective in treating trauma and PTSD, but can also treat other difficulties such as:

  • performance anxiety
  • panic attacks
  • body dysmorphic disorders
  • painful memories
  • phobias
  • complicated grief
  • dissociative disorders
  • personality disorders
  • pain disorders

How Does EMDR Work?

There is no way to know how any psychotherapy works on the neurological level, but there are some things we do know. When a person is very upset and under duress, the brain cannot process information as it would under normal conditions. (See my previous blog about how trauma affects the brain). So parts of the memory get stored separately and “frozen in time.” When the memory is then activated, it can feel very much like the person is experiencing the memory as if it is currently happening: the same feelings, thoughts and body sensations can resurface with the same intensity as when the event occurred because those things never processed through adequately and thus remain unchanged. These memories interfere with the way a person reacts to and views the world and others.

It appears that EMDR has an effect on how your brain processes information and allows the “frozen” material a chance to process through in a functional manner. Once the memory has been processed adequately, it no longer has the same effect on the person. Many individuals come away feeling neutral about the memory. By using bilateral stimulation (meaning both the left and right hemispheres are alternately stimulated), that’s where the eye movements come in, these “stuck” memories get activated and normal information processing can be resumed. This is similar to what happens naturally in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the cycle of sleep in which information taken in through the previous day is processed and sorted into short-term and long-term memory networks. If you have ever observed someone during the REM sleep cycle, you may have noticed that their eyes are darting back and forth underneath the eyelids. So really this is different from other therapies that work toward the same goals because it works on the physiological level.

Why Choose EMDR Therapy

So, Why Choose EMDR Therapy?

In short, EMDR therapy is optimal because it can usually achieve the same goal as similar therapies with fewer sessions. It can also be useful when talk therapy has not proven to be effective. Since some experiences seem to get “frozen” in the memory networks, talking about them may not be enough. EMDR works on the neurological level to access those memories in a way that talk therapy may not be able to, so then the memory can be worked through. Survivors of trauma have also reported that EMDR therapy was optimal because it is not necessary to talk in detail about the traumatic event in order for EMDR to be effective. That doesn’t mean that it may not still be painful and difficult to bring up, but the whole narrative does not need to be given and once the memory is activated the person can move through the process with less difficulty. The brain moves towards healing just like our bodies do. If you cut your hand, your body works to heal itself. The brain does the same thing, and EMDR helps remove those barriers so it can.

This has been a brief description of what EMDR is and how it works. EMDR has been shown to be effective with children, teens, and adults. I hope it has been helpful and I hope you will consider EMDR therapy for yourself and your loved ones in the future! If you would like more information on EMDR you can visit http://www.EMDRIA.org and http://www.EMDR.com.


Dissociation and Dissociative Disorders

Now that we have explored the various experiences of dissociation and dissociative disorders, how do dissociative disorders develop? The short answer is trauma. There is about a zero percent likelihood that dissociative tendencies are genetic. Dissociative disorders are most commonly associated with repetitive childhood physical and/or sexual abuse and other forms of trauma. These other forms include severe neglect or emotional abuse. Children may become dissociative in families in which the parents are unpredictable, frightening, or are dissociative themselves and do not have their own methods of coping in a healthy way with dissociation.

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

To reiterate from before, dissociation is considered adaptive because it reduces the overwhelming distress that is created by trauma. The trauma is just too much to handle, and so in a protective response, parts of the brain shut down and others become activated so the experience does not overwhelm the individual. This is survival at its best. It’s truly amazing that our minds can protect us in these ways. Difficulty arises when dissociation continues to be used in adulthood, when the original threat no longer exists, and it can then be seen as maladaptive. A dissociative adult may disconnect in situations that are perceived as threatening, because aspects of the situation trigger the former trauma(s), without determining whether or not there is any real danger. This can leave the person “tuned out” in various ordinary situations and unable to adequately protect themselves in times of real danger. When we think of the fear responses produced by the amygdala, “fight, flight and freeze,” this is a version of the “freeze” response.

Dissociative disorders can also develop in adulthood. This tends to be related to the intensity of dissociation during a traumatic event experienced as an adult. The more severe the dissociation experienced at the time of the event, the greater likelihood that these dissociative mechanisms will generalize to subsequent events. And again, if trauma is frequently experienced, such as abuse experienced in adulthood, there is a greater likelihood that a dissociative disorder may develop. The experience of ongoing trauma in childhood also greatly increases the likelihood of developing dissociative disorders in adulthood.

Treatment

Before seeking treatment, it is important to find a licensed professional who is well versed in treating dissociative disorders. There are various ways to treat dissociative disorders and treatment will be specific to the type of dissociative disorder that is diagnosed. However, there are key components that are central to these treatments. The first is stabilization. This is important in all areas of therapy, with the focus being creating safety and stability in the individual’s life. This includes creating coping skills specific to the individual in order to help them cope with their symptoms, ranging from anxiety to depression. Sometimes this includes safety planning, which pertains to coming up with a plan with the individual if the individual believes they may be in danger of harming themselves or others or if the individual is engaging in risky or dangerous behaviors. Stabilization also involves normalizing the individual’s experience, helping them understand that dissociation is a common response and that more severe dissociation is actually an adaptive response that helped them cope with overwhelming distress. This is extremely important. Many people assume that because someone suffers from a mental health disorder that there is something “wrong” with them. I reiterate to my clients this is not the case. Our brains are amazing and complicated organs. Sometimes they ways in which our brain protects us can also lead to problems in day-to-day functioning down the road. The primary function of therapy is to help individuals get back to a balance that works for them.

Since trauma is the most common cause of dissociative disorders, part of the treatment involves trauma work. This means processing through the memories of the trauma experienced by the individual. This takes time and it is imperative this is done at the pace of the individual. Continued stabilization and development of coping skills may continue throughout treatment.

This concludes my discussion on dissociation. I hope you have gained insight into dissociation and all its facets. Please visit the International Society for the study of Trauma and Dissociation for more information.

 

 

 

References:

http://www.isst-d.org

Haddock, Deborah Bray (2001) The Dissociative Identity Disorder Sourcebook, McGraw-Hill.


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