Tackle Trauma with Online Therapy: Healing from Childhood Wounds

Updated November 29, 2023by Regain Editorial Team
“Childhood trauma can be so difficult to heal from and enlisting the help of a professional can be extremely important. The complexities of the impact of trauma are real and an expert can be a safe guide. Affirm yourself for taking that brave step towards healing in your life.” - Ryan Smith, LPC, NCC

If you're reading this article, you may have experienced trauma as a child, and you may be managing the effects of that trauma. This article will give an overview of childhood trauma, its effects, and what can be done about it. While this article is intended to be a brief overview, it will still mention topics that can be upsetting to those who have experienced similar circumstances.

If the consequences of your traumatic experience have become too overwhelming, or if you feel a significant burden from your trauma, there are solutions. Tackling trauma is best done with the help of a licensed counselor or therapist, and trauma-focused therapies are available that can help you recover from traumatic exposure as a child.

Is Childhood Trauma Causing Problems?

What is Childhood Trauma?

Traumatic events in childhood can have lasting consequences well into adulthood. Traumatic events produce a real and substantial impact that can change how the brain develops and matures. The effects can vary drastically depending on the length and severity of the traumatic exposure, as well as other factors.

What Makes an Event Traumatic?

No matter if a traumatic event occurs during adulthood or childhood, the impact will be different for everybody. There is not a single set of criteria that determines whether a person will be traumatized by the circumstances of their childhood. Still, there are a few generalities that hold. For example, most people who are abused or neglected throughout childhood experience challenges related to their trauma later in life.

Other events, such as a car accident, the sudden loss of a parent, or a national disaster, can all result in trauma. The event, or events, can be prolonged, such as in the case of child abuse or nearly instant, like in a car accident. Generally, there are three things to consider when determining the impact of a potentially traumatic event on a child.  

  1. What Came Before? A child's previous experiences may contribute to their perception of a traumatic event, and they may have biological vulnerabilities to trauma, which are still poorly understood.

  2. What Happened During? The factors of the traumatic event itself can vary widely. Proximity, both emotional and physical, can predict the severity of a traumatic event. For example, a child who experiences a violent car accident is physically close to the trauma, whereas a child experiencing severe neglect is emotionally close.

  3. What Happened After? A child with a strong support network and adults willing to guide them through processing the traumatic event are significantly less likely to experience long-lasting negative impacts. Children who are left on their own or not provided with an opportunity to heal from the traumatic event healthily are much more likely to experience trauma burdens in adulthood.

It is impossible to determine the impact of a traumatic event by considering just the event itself. In some cases, long-lasting trauma impacts can be reasonably expected, like in the case of a child who experienced physical abuse regularly throughout their childhood.  However, in some cases, an event that would seem likely to induce adverse effects later in life, like the loss of a parent, can be almost entirely mitigated by adequately supporting the child after they experienced the traumatic event.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

An Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) is a difficult or burdensome experience faced by a child. The original ACE study, first published in 1995, defined three domains of ACEs: household dysfunction, abuse, and neglect.

ACEs in the household dysfunction domain include severe mental illness, an incarcerated relative, violence between family members, substance abuse, and divorce. The household dysfunction domain focuses on what is happening around the child, not necessarily what happens to the child. Abuse and neglect, on the other hand, directly relate to the impact on the child.

Abuse can be physical, emotional, or sexual. Neglect can be physical or emotional. In the case of abuse, a child is approached in an unsafe manner by an adult or older child. In neglect, the child is denied basic physical needs, like food or water, and emotional needs, like love, safety, and support.

ACEs are commonly discussed with referring to childhood trauma. Research has repeatedly demonstrated the link between ACEs and adverse outcomes in adulthood. The higher the number of ACEs experienced by a child, the more likely they are to experience future victimization, substance abuse, delayed brain development, low educational attainment, and limited employment opportunities.

If you're interested in learning more about your own ACEs and how they may have impacted you, click the link to take the adverse childhood experience quiz from ACEs Too High. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD, described simply, is a delayed or impaired recovery from exposure to a traumatic event. ACEs can induce post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but PTSD can also be caused by numerous other events that are not considered ACEs in the traditional sense.  

A child experiencing traumatic stress is likely to experience learning problems and increased behavioral problems. They are also at a higher risk for long-term health problems, like diabetes and substance use disorders. For single events, such as a violent car accident, PTSD can be entirely avoided with proper care and support following the event. However, if a child does not have adequate support, the effect can be almost immediate.

A child who experiences a traumatic event may not meet the criteria for PTSD. However, there can still be long-lasting negative impacts if the child does not receive adequate help and support. Children with many ACEs before experiencing a separate traumatic event are significantly more likely to have difficulty recovering from the trauma.

If a child does meet the criteria for PTSD, and it is left untreated, the effects can continue until adulthood. By the time a child reaches the point where they can be diagnosed with a traumatic stress disorder, they must be demonstrating symptoms suggesting an overwhelming trauma burden. That trauma burden is unlikely to resolve independently without help from a support network and, in many cases, therapy.

Healing from Childhood Trauma

Whether you've been aware of the impact of childhood trauma for a while or are just coming to terms with it, help is available. Trauma can be difficult to overcome by yourself, and experts recommend visiting with a licensed, trauma-informed therapist. A trauma-informed therapist is a mental health professional specifically trained in the impacts of trauma throughout the lifespan; they have methods and approaches that are known to be effective with individuals experiencing trauma.

Therapy led with the goal of addressing trauma, or trauma-focused therapy, is known to be highly effective. One study found that nearly 80 percent of those who visit a therapist to manage trauma-related concerns see a significant reduction in their symptoms.

Therapists use a variety of methods to address trauma. Here are a few of the most common:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. By adjusting one domain, positive results can be achieved in another. For example, a therapist may teach you how to address unhealthy behaviors associated with your trauma and improve negative thinking patterns. In turn, this helps your feelings become more positive.

Cognitive Processing Therapy

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is similar to CBT described above but focuses entirely on trauma-related beliefs. During a course of CPT, the therapist will help you understand and conceptualize the traumatic event in a new, less harmful way.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET) is a therapeutic method for slowly and gradually approaching trauma-related memories, feelings, and situations. By slowly facing the source of trauma's negative impacts, you can re-learn that specific memories and cues are not dangerous or harmful.

How Can Online Therapy Help?

Processing trauma, especially trauma that you've carried since childhood, is often much easier and quicker with the help of a licensed therapist. Online therapy can remove barriers and make therapy easier to access, such as removing the need to travel to a physical office or choosing only therapists who practice nearby. The methods used by online therapists are the same evidence-based treatments that a therapist would use in an office setting. Even when administered online, these techniques are just as effective as if they were used in an office.  

Counselor Reviews

“Even when I had no idea what kind of counselor to pick, I was matched with a beyond certified and compassionate woman who was a GREAT listener. I really connected with her and she will be in my contacts forever. Andrea has been flexible with her scheduling even in the chaos that was my life. I’m so appreciative of her abilities to help me. She helped me learn to love myself through a divorce, childhood trauma, and overcome my fears for the future.”

“Joiet understands that I come from a very toxic childhood and I thank her sincerely for pushing me along the way to become a better person and stop the cycle.”

Is Childhood Trauma Causing Problems?

Takeaway

Trauma does not mean the same thing to every person. Determining what makes an event traumatic depends on multiple factors, not just the event itself. In children, the best protective factor is a strong support network that allows the child to process a traumatic event healthily. If the child is constantly exposed to traumatic circumstances, such as in chronic abuse and neglect, they are more likely to grow up experiencing negative mental and physical health impacts from their trauma. However, even in adulthood, trauma-focused therapy is an effective way to relieve the burden of childhood trauma.

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