Impact of childhood trauma on dysfunctional behaviours

By Andrea Taylor, Addictions Therapy Manager, The Priory Hospital North London

With years of experience in addictions, trauma and co-dependency treatment, Andrea Taylor manages the new five-day Trauma Programme at The Priory Hospital North London

Childhood experiences

Experiences in early childhood can have a long-lasting and profound impact on peoples' lives. However, this doesn't mean that these experiences have to be defining.

Our team at North London has introduced a new five-day Trauma Programme to help patients to understand how their early childhood issues have potentially fuelled various addictions, mental health issues, eating disorders, and relationship issues in their adult lives.

A recent study into the link between childhood trauma and adult psychosis in the UK found that approximately 60% of respondents reported that they had experienced childhood trauma (Reeder, et al, 2017). As such, it is so important that we help patients to explore what can often be 'root-causes' of adult dysfunctional behaviour, as part of our holistic trauma programme.

The goal of our five-day Trauma Programme is to help people to 'break-free' from their dysfunctional behaviours that have been deep-rooted from a young age.

Another study into The Effects of Childhood and Stress on Health Across the Lifespan, has shown that, at an appropriate level, stress can help children to develop the skills that they need to effectively cope and adapt throughout life. However, during these early stages of development, it is important that children receive support from their parents or caregivers so that they learn how to respond to stress in a healthy manner. Without this support, prolonged periods of stress during childhood can impact a person's nervous and immune systems, and can lead to alcoholism, depression, eating disorders, heart disease, and other chronic diseases (Middlebrooks and Audage, 2008).

Unfortunately, many people that we treat have already lived through and seen some of these impacts first-hand, and our role is to help them to live a more positive and fulfilling life by helping them to identify, deal with, and resolve these childhood traumas.

Underpinning the five-day Trauma Programme

The five-day Trauma Programme, which is unique to Priory in the UK, is based on Pia Mellody's Post Induction Therapy (PIT), a method that is widely used in the USA. The PIT approach utilises an eclectic mix of therapy and treatment models, bringing together elements of:

  • Psychoanalysis
  • Gestalt therapy (gestalt helps people to focus on their immediate thoughts, feelings and behaviours and to better understand the way they relate to others, The Gestalt Centre)
  • Family systems therapy
  • Transactional analysis therapy
  • Rational emotive therapy

By using educational and experiential processes, we are able to help patients to identify and address their childhood trauma and family-of-origin issues. Once we can identify these issues, we then work with patients to explore ways to deal with the emotions that accompany their past traumatic events, and how to resolve the resulting grief and distress.

The programme model examines the five core symptoms of co-dependent patterns:

  1. Self-esteem
  2. Boundaries
  3. Reality
  4. Intimacy
  5. Moderation/containment

Shame - the relationship pollutant

Family and social norms experienced in childhood that are deemed as being 'less than nurturing', can lead to feelings of shame. Children carry this shame with them, from their initial core-relationship with their parents or carers, to other subsequent relationships with themselves and with others. The shame effectively acts as a 'relationship pollutant'.

In the five-day Trauma Programme, therapists act as an advocate to help patients to acknowledge their reality and start to release some of their repressed shame. This is done through our re-parenting process, which includes teaching effective boundaries, self-esteem and moderation.

Preventing relapse

The treatment can have a significant effect on reducing depression, and crucially, helps to prevent relapse.

We require patients to complete a minimum of three therapy sessions, which can be done either before or after the programme, to help prevent relapse and promote long-term change.

The aim is for patients to complete the programme with an understanding of the unhealthy coping behaviours (such as addiction) and damage that they have inherited from their childhood trauma and to learn how to create healthy relationships with others and to have a better understanding of themselves.

Who is it aimed at?

The five-day Trauma Programme is designed to help anyone with co-dependency or attachment disorders and is, therefore, not limited to addiction patients.

How does it work?

The five-day Trauma Programme includes:

  • Lectures of co-dependency, abuse, love addiction and boundaries
  • Debrief sessions where patients explore their family-of-origin issues
  • Shame reduction workshops

From January 2018 our five-day Trauma Programme will include a free aftercare group, which will be offered to graduates on a weekly basis, for one year.

What participants have said:

  • "I cannot put into words the profound impact that doing the trauma week had on me. I became aware of how my family situation moulded my way of coping, which worked for me then, but no longer served me. I felt a sense of freedom from the week, and I gained some good friends. I went away with a set of tools and support that has helped to improve my relationship with myself and my family."
  • "I found the trauma week to be like an out-of-body experience and afterwards I felt physically, mentally and emotionally three stone lighter. I went to places that I never thought I could go to."
  • "The programme enabled me to release myself from my past and allow me to move on and start a foundation for a new life. It was actually quite massive; it was a life-changing experience that I would recommend to anyone."

For more information on The Priory North London's five-day Trauma Programme, please contact Andrea Taylor, by phone 02088 828 191 or email.

References:

  • Middlebrooks, Jennifer S. and Audage, Natalie C. (2008) The Effects of Childhood Stress on Health Across the Lifespan. Project Report. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Reeder, F. D., Husain, N., Rhouma, A., Haddad, P. M., Munshi, T., Naeem, F., … Chaudhry, I. B. (2017) The relationship between childhood trauma and adult psychosis in a UK Early Intervention Service: results of a retrospective case note study. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 13, 269-273. http://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S98605