I treat what has been called Complex PTSD and is now being referred to more often as Developmental Trauma. These conditions emerge from deliberate or unintentional parental maltreatment of children beginning in utero and continuing until the 18th year. They cause all harmful negative self-beliefs and addictions. Healthy adults are raised by non-stressed, non-depressed, nurturing, and emotionally attuned parents. Traumatized children grow up exposed to emotional neglect; physical, sexual or emotional abuse; parental separation/divorce; parental mental illness, addiction or incarceration; or chaotic homes where parents frequently argue and fight. To survive their trauma children develop coping mechanisms that bring suffering and limit their quality of life as adults. These coping mechanisms go hand in hand with an emotionally dysregulated nervous system that shows up in fight, flight or freeze. An adult who was traumatized as a child may experience large gaps in her childhood memories, emotional numbness with frequent dissociation or become stuck in anger and rage. While behavioral therapies can reduce symptoms they do not go to the root cause of the problem behavior which is childhood trauma. Trauma therapies with proven effectiveness like EMDR, Internal Family Systems, Compassionate Inquiry, and Hypnosis, all of which I provide, can put you back in touch with your memories, your feelings and your true Self. They can help you develop resiliency, optimism, wholeness, curiosity, creativity, playfulness, and joy. They can help you end your addictions to substances or compulsive activities that you relied on to avoid inner emotional pain.
The most common core belief that survivors of Developmental Trauma share is that they are "not enough" or are in some way "unworthy."
When a child is emotionally neglected or abused by her parents this does not reflect the reality of who she is – something that can be seen only in the much larger context of life itself. The fact that one’s parents are going through their own stuff (their own struggles with depression, anger, alcohol, etc.) cannot determine the worth of their child who is worth as much as every other human being even if, for a period of time, she finds it hard to believe this. A major purpose of therapy is to disentangle the client’s core belief of unworthiness from the truth that she was always worthy but grew up in an environment that did not accurately mirror her worth. The ultimate attainment in therapy is to recognize one's true worth, to feel that one is enough, to truly accept oneself, and be grateful for the gift of life as oneself.
I treat behavioral addictions involving a compulsive repetition of self-harming actions. All addictions stem from trauma during childhood. Why? The very parents or caregivers who are supposed to love, validate, and protect their child are ignoring, rejecting or actively harming her. The child lacks the cognitive capacity to understand that her parents are incapable of nurturing her so she blames herself. The child comes to believe that she must be defective, worthless or unlovable because she cannot account for her parents' maltreatment of her in any other way. In addition to this cognitive bias in favor of self-blame the child is biologically driven to attach to her parents as the only way to physically survive. Consequently she will excuse and explain away their maltreatment in order to receive food, shelter, and whatever crumbs of approval they occasionally throw her way. Many traumatized children suppress all trauma memories to avoid going insane or killing themselves. Some children have fragmentary memories. Either way they grow up with highly dysregulated nervous systems and intense internal distress. As they reach their teens these trauma survivors find ways to reduce distress and feel "normal." These ways include alcohol, drugs, and a host of behavioral addictions including workaholism, excessive Internet use or video gaming, shopping sprees, shoplifting, hoarding, cutting, burning, hair or skin picking, eating disorders, headbanging or compulsive masturbation to porn.
I am trained in the use of EMDR and have used it to treat PTSD, depression, anxiety, and other disorders. EMDR is an internationally recognized trauma recovery technique created by psychologist Francine Shapiro in 1989. It is endorsed as an effective treatment for PTSD by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the US Dept. of Veterans Affairs, and the US Dept. of Defense. The treatment involves alternately stimulating each hemisphere of the brain by having the client shift her gaze while tracking the therapist's moving fingers. Alternating bilateral brain stimulation can also be done using a pointer, buzzers held in each hand by the client, alternating sounds in the client's ears or even by sequential tapping of the client's knees or having the client sequentially tap her upper chest just under the collarbones. Prior to this kind of processing the client is prepared by using guided visualization to feel safe and calm. Next the client is asked to articulate her most painful negative belief about herself (e.g. I am worthless or I am unlovable) and to rate the emotional pain caused by that belief on a 1-10 scale. The client is also asked to describe the sensations in her body when she holds this belief in mind. Next the client is invited to describe the positive belief she would like to have about herself (e.g. I am worthy and lovable) and to measure how much she actually believes it on a 1-7 scale. During processing many things can occur. The client may vividly recall events from long ago that she had completely forgotten. She may experience a great variety of feelings tied to childhood events that include fear, shame, sadness or anger. The basic theory of EMDR is that it unfreezes trauma memories which have been stuck and hidden in the brain since childhood. This renders them capable of being reprocessed by the client's innate intelligence which Shapiro called AIP or the adaptive information processing network. While the client's AIP is activated she can see herself in a new light and rapidly, automatically reinterpret old events to show how much courage, strength, vitality, creativity, resourcefulness or tenacity she has always had but never given herself credit for. This serves to reframe how the client views herself, liberating herself from negative, self-defeating beliefs borne or childhood trauma and coming to own new positive self-beliefs that potentiate greater self-compassion, self-acceptance, and healthy self-love.
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