Childhood trauma refers to adverse childhood events that result in anxiety, depression, flashbacks, nightmares, or other psychological symptoms.
Common types of childhood trauma include childhood neglect, sexual exploitation, the loss of a parent, and bullying, among others.
In this guide, we’ve explained how to find a therapist who has experience in helping people overcome serious childhood trauma. We’ve also explained what to expect when seeing a counselor to help overcome trauma in your childhood.
Childhood trauma therapists
Below, we’ve looked at two places you can find a licensed, qualified childhood trauma therapist.
BetterHelp is an online platform where you can easily access the services of qualified, experienced mental health professionals. Using this service, you can connect with a licensed therapist who has extensive experience in helping people overcome childhood trauma, as well as any symptoms of your trauma, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
To join BetterHelp, you will be asked some questions about your problem, and what you’re looking for in a therapist. During this process, you can state that you’re looking for help with “Trauma and abuse”, and you can provide more details about the issue, and your preferences in a therapist, such as their gender.
Using this information, BetterHelp will match you with the best childhood trauma therapist for your specific needs. They will also take into account your availability, and what time works best for you to see a therapist. You can get help outside of business hours, if you’d like.
BetterHelp provides different communication options that you can use to get therapy from your counselor. These include live chat, text messages, audio calling, and video sessions. With a BetterHelp subscription, you get access to one therapy session each week, conducted over a medium of your choice – normally a video call. You also get the ability to message your therapist as much as you’d like in between each scheduled therapy session.
Lastly, BetterHelp provides professional therapy to treat childhood trauma at quite a reasonable weekly price. Their services are often cheaper than in-person therapy, assuming you do not have insurance coverage, and they also offer financial support options to veterans, students, and those on low incomes, amongst other socioeconomic groups.
The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) has an online directory where you can easily locate a therapist qualified to help with childhood psychological trauma.
To use this directory, you simply need to fill in the details of where you live, such as your zip code, state, and country. Next, you can select your preferences in a therapist. For childhood mental trauma, you may select PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), “Harassment in childhood”, or any other issues you’re facing.
The ISTSS directory also allows you to use the childhood or adolescent filter while searching for a therapist. Using this filter, the ISTSS directory will only list those therapists who specialize in treating childhood trauma-related issues.
Along with the therapists’ names, the directory also provides the contact information of these mental health professionals. You can contact the therapist directly to learn more about their services, insurance coverage, and pricing, and then schedule in therapy sessions at a time that works for you.
However, unlike BetterHelp, this directory doesn’t have a huge number of therapists listed. If you live in a smaller town or city, it might be difficult to find a therapist who specializes in childhood trauma near you.
What is childhood trauma?
As defined by the National Institute of Mental Health, any event or situation a child experiences that is distressful or emotionally painful, which may lead to mental or physical effects, can be described as childhood trauma.
These painful events may include physical or sexual abuse, emotional abuse, witnessing domestic violence, the loss of a loved one, physical or emotional neglect, or any other traumatic events.
Symptoms of childhood trauma
Childhood trauma presents different symptoms that may vary from person to person. Moreover, childhood trauma symptoms also depend on the age of the individual.
Below, we’ve looked at some common symptoms of childhood trauma. This is not an exhaustive list – there are other symptoms that sometimes occur which are not listed here.
a) Childhood trauma in preschool and elementary-age children
- Excessive crying and acting out
- Separation anxiety
- Nightmares and difficulty sleeping
- Decreased academic performance
- Excessive mood swings and aggressive behavior
b) Childhood trauma in teens
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of guilt and shame
- Self-harming behaviors
- Increased negative thoughts
- Hyperactivity and risky sexual behaviors
- Irritability and isolation from social peers or family
c) Childhood trauma in adults
Left untreated, childhood trauma may lead to many different types of mental health problems in adulthood. These may include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychosis, emotional imbalances, depression, attachment disorders, and an inability to manage stressful situations, amongst other issues.
How common is childhood trauma?
If you have faced traumatic events in your childhood, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re not alone.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), almost two-thirds of children have experienced at least one traumatic event before the age of 16.
This statistic clearly indicates that this isn’t a rare issue – most people have faced childhood trauma. However, the trauma we’ve experienced may remain hidden from the conscious mind, and does not always significantly affect our mental health in the long term.
When childhood trauma does affect your mental health, it can be very beneficial to seek help from a licensed therapist.
How can childhood trauma therapists help?
Childhood trauma therapists can help alleviate the symptoms of negative past events and reduce the further impact that childhood trauma has on your mental health and wellbeing.
First of all, a trauma therapist typically explores the symptoms of trauma, the severity of the trauma, and its effects on your mental health. After exploring these different aspects, a therapist may devise a therapeutic strategy to cope with the trauma. We have explored some of the common psychotherapeutic techniques used to help manage trauma in the next section.
Ideally, your therapist will also follow up with your progress after completing a course of therapy, to help ensure that the treatment was successful, and your symptoms have subsided.
Therapies used by childhood trauma therapists
Mental health professionals may use a range of different psychological therapies to help resolve childhood trauma issues. These types of therapies include:
a) Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is focused on changing negative behaviors, thoughts, ideas, and perceptions related to past trauma. A trauma therapist will explore unwanted and painful thoughts associated with childhood trauma during CBT.
After identifying these unwanted thoughts and ideas, a therapist usually tries to replace these negative thoughts with positive and helpful ones.
CBT is often used to treat the effects of childhood trauma that appear in your teenage years, or in adulthood. This type of therapy is less effective at helping children to overcome trauma symptoms, except where specific steps are taken to adapt the treatment process, such as with trauma-focused CBT, which we have explored below.
b) Trauma-focused CBT
Trauma-focused CBT, a subtype of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, is mainly used by therapists to help children and adolescents manage childhood trauma. In trauma-focused CBT, a therapist will provide trauma-sensitive interventions, and will also use cognitive-behavioral techniques.
Before processing the trauma, a therapist focuses on providing psychoeducation, relaxation, and cognitive skills to help you cope with trauma symptoms. In this way, a child’s mental health is safeguarded before beginning to manage their symptoms using CBT techniques.
c) Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy
During EMDR, a therapist might ask you to recall memories of past trauma while using bilateral stimulation in the form of eye movements or finger tapping. This type of therapy can help desensitize you to your traumatic experiences, and consequently, in the future, you may recall certain traumatic experiences without the occurrence of unwanted symptoms, such as anxiety.
d) Narrative exposure therapy (NET)
Narrative exposure therapy is another type of treatment used to alleviate the symptoms of childhood trauma. With this type of therapy, you may be asked to narrate the story of your life experiences, including both negative and positive events.
The primary focus of a therapist in providing NET is active listening and positive feedback. During the narration of past events, a therapist may ask you to use a symbol (such as flowers or a stone) when narrating a certain past incident. You may select the symbol according to your emotional response to that incident. For example, flowers might represent good moments, while stones represent traumatic experiences. Thus, your timeline of different life events is annotated with flowers or stones.
Next, the therapist may work on the different traumas you’ve experienced in your life, represented by stone symbols in the timeline. Lastly, the therapist may also provide you with a complete timeline of events to study the trauma you have faced, your emotional responses to those events, and how you overcame these childhood traumatic experiences.
NET is mostly preferred when you have gone through multiple traumatic events instead of just one, because it provides a timeline of events in chronological order. In this way, it becomes easier to resolve complex childhood traumas collectively.
e) Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
Using techniques such as CBT and mindfulness, dialectical behavioral therapy is mainly used to prevent self-harm and help patients learn skills that can be used to manage painful emotions or memories associated with trauma.
In DBT, the main focus of therapy is acceptance of painful experiences, and then goal orientation to achieve a behavioral modification through a step-by-step process. A therapist may help you recognize your negative inner thoughts about past traumas and then devise a therapeutic plan for behavioral change. This behavioral modification is designed to result in a desensitization to past trauma.
f) Prolonged exposure therapy
Prolonged exposure therapy is designed to desensitize individuals to traumatic memories and painful emotions associated with past traumas. In prolonged exposure therapy, you may be asked to tell the story related to the traumatic incident again and again.
Sometimes, negative responses to traumatic events occur because you avoid talking about or remembering your trauma. Talking about the trauma repeatedly can help you work through the pain, and come to accept what occurred. In this way, you may eventually be able to avoid experiencing painful emotions when thinking about the trauma you have faced.
f) Art therapy
Art therapy is another good way to resolve childhood trauma issues. As children are usually less verbally expressive, art therapy provides an alternative medium to express painful experiences or previous traumas, but art therapy is also very effective for adults as well.
In art therapy, you may be asked by the art therapist to express your painful emotions through different creative expressions. This may include poetry, painting, music, sculpturing, and other art forms you can use to express your inner thoughts.
Childhood trauma therapists are not restricted only to using the therapies mentioned above, especially when working with children, rather than adults. They may also use a range of other therapies to resolve mental health issues associated with childhood trauma, such as school-wide interventions, attachment and competency frameworks, or play therapy.
Benefits of childhood trauma therapy
There are many benefits associated with childhood trauma therapies for those suffering from trauma symptoms, such as PTSD. Some of these benefits are explained below.
a) Psychoeducation through therapy
You will learn more details about your mental health condition through childhood trauma therapy. During this process, a therapist may inform you about the effects of traumatic experiences on your mental and emotional health, and ways to mitigate their effects. They may also discuss different strategies to cope with these issues.
Therapy can be an opportunity to discover the answers to certain questions regarding your thoughts, ideas, or behaviors you consider unbearable, or which are associated with past traumas.
b) Identification of triggers
Childhood trauma occurs when we are still developing, and as a result, it is not always an easy task to identify the triggers of symptoms. Often, it is quite hard to find the exact triggers that may aggravate the symptoms of childhood trauma.
A trauma therapist may explore different triggers through these therapies, identify the aggravating factors, and then inform you about their findings. This information can be especially helpful as you and your therapist formulate a plan to help overcome these triggers.
c) Development of coping skills
Childhood trauma therapy provides an opportunity to learn healthy coping skills – essential to managing the issues precipitated by childhood traumas. These skills may include anger management, stress reduction skills, relaxation techniques, and many others.
These skills can also help you cope with life’s challenges more broadly, as they equip an individual with a greater sense of resilience and a stronger response to negative events they may face.
d) Reduction in traumatic stress symptoms
Overall, the main purpose of childhood trauma therapy is to reduce traumatic stress symptoms. Using different psychotherapeutic techniques, a trauma therapist may help you to overcome anxiety, depression, shame or guilt, nightmares, and other symptoms associated with childhood trauma.
Mental or physical trauma during childhood can leave painful scars, which can affect our mental health through adolescence and into adulthood.
Betterhelp is an online platform where you can connect with experienced trauma therapists who can help you alleviate the symptoms and minimize the effects of childhood trauma. However, if you prefer in-person therapy sessions, the ISTSS directory can be a good option to find contact information of trauma therapists near you.
Still not sure how best to find a therapist to help with childhood trauma? Feel free to leave a comment below, and we’ll get back to you.
About the author
When people experience mental trauma or face severe stress, their lives can unravel. My job is to help begin the healing process. I help my patients improve their mental health, strengthen relationships with others, and begin to overcome past traumas. I practice a large range of psycho-behavioral therapies, and have more than three years’ experience in clinical psychology and counseling.
In my spare time, I’m also a professional writer who spreads awareness about mental health issues. I have written many articles on this topic over the years for numerous different publications.
My educational background includes an M.B.B.S from the University of Health and Sciences, Lahore, majoring in Behavioral Sciences, and a Bachelors from G.C University, Faisalabad.