PTSD and Developmental Trauma

About 70% of Americans experience substantial trauma at some time during their lives. Although many people manage to recover well from trauma and lead productive and happy lives, many do not. Approximately 10% of women and 5% of men receive a diagnosis of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition in which the brain is not able to accurately process information related to current life events, due to interference from patterns created by the trauma. The many, diverse symptoms of PTSD include: intrusive memories, mood disorders, hypervigilance, sleep disorders, emotional numbing, angry outbursts, and difficulty with interpersonal relationships. Some estimates are are that the actual incidence of PTSD is at least double the number of diagnosed cases, due to hesitancy to seek out treatment, misdiagnosis, and other factors.

When trauma occurs during childhood, symptoms can be particularly debilitating, and may last throughout the lifespan, if not properly addressed. Abuse, neglect, and living in an unstable or dangerous environment can traumatize a child’s brain in a way that persists into adulthood, producing symptoms similar to adult PTSD. However, people with developmental trauma may have particular difficulties in a number of areas, including feeling safe with others in relationships, integrating sensory information, developing a proper sense of self, and cognitive processing.

The good news is that substantial improvement or even full recovery is possible through a variety of healing modalities. In the short term, medication can be sometimes be helpful, and proper evaluation and treatment from a qualified medical professional can be very useful. In some cases, medication may remain necessary for ongoing management of symptoms. In the long term, however, other healing modalities, such as somatic psychotherapy, massage therapy, yoga, expressive arts therapy, and neurofeedback, can facilitate profound, permanent transformations of the psyche that frequently do not occur with medication alone.

Of these modalities, neurofeedback is often the most powerful. In a recent (2016) study by Bessel van der Kolk and colleagues, 24 sessions of neurofeedback produced, on the average, a 50% reduction in symptoms, which remained stable a month after the training had ended. This is a much faster and more dramatic result than is generally experienced with other therapies. However, it is recommended that a client undergoing neurofeedback should also work with a psychotherapist who is trained in trauma resolution therapies, to help the client integrate the brain changes produced by the neurofeedback into a new psychological awareness of what it is to be their authentic self, free from the tyranny of the trauma-related brain patterns.