Top Three Remarkable Ways To Heal From Development Trauma Disorder
Written by Kianna Morgan, a therapist in training and MSW student. Kianna is passionate about trauma-informed practices and enjoys writing as a way to share empowering information with people suffering from trauma and chronic stress.
What is the difference between developmental trauma disorder and PTSD (aka shock trauma)?
Shock trauma, clinically recognized as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, refers to the impact an acute traumatic event has on the survivor. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), which defines and classifies mental disorders, identifies PTSD as a diagnosis that includes symptoms like hypervigilance, avoidance of reminders of the event, exaggerated startle response, and dissociative reactions such as flashbacks. PTSD is a label that is applied to the body’s instinctive response to a traumatic event.
It is important to note that experiencing an acute traumatic event does not necessarily mean that someone will experience the symptoms associated with PTSD. Additionally, after an acute trauma, some people may experience post traumatic stress, but not meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. And finally, some will meet the criteria for PTSD and also experience other maladaptive symptoms that were formed by traumatic events. The bottom line is that how our bodies respond to trauma is not entirely predictable and can vary greatly from person to person.
One factor that can play a role in determining whether we experience PTS symptoms after a trauma is our trauma history. Prior exposure to traumatic events can prime the nervous system to have a stronger response that may result in PTSD.
Unlike PTSD, Developmental Trauma Disorder is not yet recognized by the DSM-V. The term was coined by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk (psychiatrist, trauma researcher, and best selling author) as a way to describe the effects of trauma experienced in early developmental stages. Often these traumas were chronic in nature and were experienced within the child’s care-giving system. The result is a collection of symptoms that does not fit neatly into the criteria required for a PTSD diagnosis, but is clearly the result of trauma, strongly impacts the child, and alters the path of their growth and development.
Dr. van der Kolk states, “Chronic trauma interferes with neurobiological development and the capacity to integrate sensory, emotional and cognitive information into a cohesive whole. Developmental trauma sets the stage for unfocused responses to subsequent stress, leading to dramatic increases in the use of medical, correctional, social and mental health services.”
What is NARM and how does it inform treatment of developmental trauma disorder?
The NeuroAffective Relational Model (NARM) was developed by Dr. Laurence Heller, a body-oriented therapist and best-selling author. NARM is a psychobiological approach to working with individuals who have experienced developmental trauma.
Differing from other methods of developmental trauma, NARM focuses on “helping clients establish connection to the parts of self that are organized, coherent and functional.” This focus supports self-regulation and invites clients into an empowered experience of themselves. To accomplish this, NARM supports connection and organization, explores identity, works in present time and regulates the nervous system.
According to Dr. Heller, connection is a core need. Connection to others, our environment, and ourselves are foundational to molding who we become. For those who have experienced developmental trauma, the maladaptive survival styles they developed as children often carry into adulthood diminishing their ability to connect. The body-based practices and trauma-informed lens we work with at Red Beard Somatic Therapy help create safe opportunities for exploring connection and developing healthy attachment patterns.
What are the main survival styles that influence the way we live our lives in adulthood?
These survival styles are often seen in people with developmental trauma disorder and/or a high ACEs scores (Adverse Childhood Experiences). The following survival styles were used to survive a toxic environment and allowed us to stand here today.
Unfortunately, these survival styles are maladaptive in that they can further dysregulate our nervous system and affect our ability to connect with ourselves, others, and our environment in a healthy way.
How does sympathetic activation and freeze play a role in developmental trauma disorder?
Sympathetic activation is triggered when we perceive a threat. Our nervous system triggers a fight and/or flight response to protect us from the adversary. This vigilance makes connection with others and ourselves extremely difficult.
Developmental trauma, high Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) score, and toxic stress increases the likelihood of a freeze response. A freeze response is activated when we face a single traumatic event or series of events that we perceive as life threatening. When faced with an overwhelming threat our nervous system shuts our body down because it deems that fight or flight won’t save us.
Often, when we come out of a freeze, we experience sympathetic activation and the fight/flight response. We must safely go through sympathetic activation to reach a state of calm. Ultimately, our goal is to help you safely come out of freeze, go through sympathetic activation, and finally reach social engagement and calm.
How can a therapist help me transition from freeze to sympathetic activation safely?
Red Beard Somatic Therapy has a team of trauma informed therapists that specialize in applying body-based therapies while working with individuals with developmental trauma disorder.
At Red Beard Somatic Therapy we will create a safe holding space for you to connect with your body and untether you from the hold that trauma has over you and your life. Our somatic therapists are dedicated to helping you regulate your nervous system and release tension, stress, and trauma. Our trauma informed therapists would be honored to assist you in reaching social engagement and calm in a safe and supportive environment. Book with us now to begin your healing journey.