I have spoken to many people who experience poor mental health and have done so for most of their lives. One of the questions often asked is, why am I not getting better. They often experience depression, anxiety, substance abuse and relationship difficulties. Many have spent years in counselling and therapy and yet nothing seems to change. They take prescribed medications, engage in talking therapies, learn and practice Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques, mindfulness, gratitude and the like.
A common and often overlooked (in my opinion) issue for many is that of childhood abuse/neglect. It amazes me how many state that they have never been asked about any traumatic childhood experiences, particularly, sexual abuse. The latter has often been a taboo subject and openly discussing it was considered by many as inappropriate and uncomfortable. It is also possible they were asked and did not feel comfortable sharing their experiences. Or maybe they already have a mental health diagnosis and are being treated based on that diagnosis. The last few decades of research have shown the effects of childhood abuse and neglect on both physical and mental health. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study conducted by CDC-Kaiser Permanente is the most comprehensive study to date on the effects of childhood trauma. The study done in the late 1990’s showed how negative childhood experiences can have a profound effect on adult physical and mental health.
One of the study’s lead authors Dr Vince Feletti gives a brief explanation of the findings here:
Much of the ongoing research has confirmed initial studies and is slowly leading to a shift in treatment approaches. The question, what is wrong with you? is now being replaced with, what happened to you? It is also shifting the treatment from traditional talking therapies to body-based therapies such as massage, yoga and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy according to Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. He has been a clinician, researcher and teacher in the area of post-traumatic stress since the 1970’s. His New York Times bestselling book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma discusses how trauma affects the body, especially the brain, and how new treatments can be integrated into healing the individual rather than masking trauma related symptoms. There are some free resources online for his book and his work, or the paperback version of the book will set you back around $25 and is well worth the read.
For those who love TED talks here is a longer video about the effects of childhood trauma.
This article is a very brief summary of how childhood experiences can impact in later life and I will be talking about this more at a later date. If anything resonates with you I would encourage you to do your own research or find a counsellor who is trained in trauma treatment.
Wishing you all the best in your journey
PS: I appreciate this article may be triggering for some people. It is my hope that it will be enlightening for many and help explain why traditional therapies may not be working for you. If you are in Australia, you can contact Blue Knot Foundation for support and advice. International readers can follow this link to International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.