By Wesley Gallagher

Trauma. It’s a big word with many connotations. Terms like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have entered the American lexicon, tied to news of terrorist attacks or stories of combat soldiers. But trauma is something that is experienced in big and small ways by people in all circumstances (no war zone required).

And the media is helping to spread the word. For instance, the Me Too movement has brought to light the impact sexual abuse and harassment have on people’s mental and emotional wellbeing. And as mental health and addiction are more widely discussed in the media and online, traumatic experiences in the lives of everyday people are brought to the forefront. We’re finally getting the message: trauma comes in all shapes and sizes, and it doesn’t discriminate.

“Trauma is often a major cause or intensifier of mental health issues, eating disorders, and addictions. It stays beneath the surface, rearing its head powerfully when we least expect it.”

Another thing about trauma is that it sticks with us, in our minds and our bodies, and can affect many areas of our lives for years—if not decades—if left unresolved. Trauma is often a major cause or intensifier of mental health issues, eating disorders, and addictions. It stays beneath the surface, rearing its head powerfully when we least expect it.

Treating Trauma

Trauma doesn’t usually just resolves itself. It needs to be worked through. People rarely seek out treatment for trauma, though. Often, a person doesn’t even realize they have experienced trauma until they are in treatment for something else. The issue is discovered during therapy or in treatment for some other condition like a mental health disorder or an addiction.

This inability to recognize trauma may come from our difficulty in understanding exactly what it is. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”

Many people don’t realize that trauma can come in several forms, from many different situations. The traumatic event doesn’t even have to happen to a person directly. Trauma can be experienced from witnessing violence happening to another person, or simply being in an environment that feels unsafe, such as a child growing up in a home where there is spousal abuse or alcoholism. Because people don’t necessarily realize when they are experiencing or have experienced trauma, it makes it particularly hard to resolve.

Addressing Trauma and Trauma-informed Treatment

At The Meadows, we’ve been aware of trauma’s role in behavioral health issues and addiction for some time, recognizing the importance of addressing unresolved emotional trauma as part of the treatment process. All of our Meadows Behavioral Healthcare programs, whether their primary focus is addiction, mental health issues, eating disorders, or sex addiction, include trauma treatment.

We’re so committed to this topic that we’re co-sponsoring US Journal Training’s 2nd International Conference on Trauma and Addiction. Taking place in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 16-18, 2020, the event’s focus this year is on “Integrated Approaches to Attachment, Relationships, and Family Issues.” The conference will address the neuroscience of trauma and addiction, offering a variety of sessions for professionals looking to learn more about trauma-informed treatment and the importance of addressing trauma in all of its forms, especially when dealing with mental health and addiction.

“Traumatic experiences, especially during childhood, can cause shame that produces toxic self-talk, and addictive coping patterns are often used to numb the pain of childhood trauma. Until trauma is addressed and new coping skills are learned, these negative patterns will continue.”

Speakers include several Senior Fellows and staff from Meadows Behavioral Healthcare programs, each of whom will discuss a specific aspect of trauma and trauma-informed care. Leaders in their respective fields, with years of experience dealing with trauma in one form or another, they will tackle topics such as the connection between mind and body in trauma, childhood trauma, attachment-based therapy, sexual betrayal, opioid addiction, eating disorders, and LGBTQ considerations, among others. Attendees will leave with a well-rounded understanding of how trauma informs all aspects of health and addiction, as well as tools for integrating this knowledge into their practice.

Meadows Behavioral Healthcare has a long history of treating trauma alongside other mental health disorders and addiction. Our clinical teams consider the whole person when deciding on the appropriate course of treatment, and this means getting to the root cause of any mental health issues, addiction, or eating disorders. For lasting healing, negative thinking patterns and behaviors must be discovered and addressed, and we’ve found that trauma is often the source of such patterns. Traumatic experiences, especially during childhood, can cause shame that produces toxic self-talk, and addictive coping patterns are often used to numb the pain of childhood trauma. Until trauma is addressed and new coping skills are learned, these negative patterns will continue.

As there is increased awareness around the topic of trauma—in professional circles, the media, and among regular people—we are poised to help, sharing our expertise with both professionals and patients who are interested in addressing trauma and its long-term effects on mental health.