Family of Origin Trauma

Trauma can involve a wide range of different events within a family.  Some can be violent, frightening, or potentially life-threatening events.  Others can be more chronic, subtle, and less obvious.  Each member of the family experiences the same traumatic event differently depending on their age, role in the family, and personality. Seeking professional therapy or counseling for family trauma or childhood trauma can help every member of the family cope and recover.

Specifically, family of origin (FOO) work can help the individual examine how these traumatic events may be impacting their relationships, self-esteem, anxiety, and depression symptoms.

Types of Traumatic Events

Childhood trauma can come in many forms.  Some traumatic events are one-time events or what we refer to as "Big T" trauma, such as:

  • Natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, floods, fires)
  • Sexual assault
  • Physical assault (shootings, stabbings)
  • Witnessing an assault
  • Divorce/separation
  • Serious or terminal illness in a parent or beloved family member
  • The sudden death of a parent or caregiver
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
Family Trauma Therapy

Other types of childhood traumas are ongoing or what we refer to as "Little t" trauma, such as:

  • Divorce
  • Bullying
  • Loss of relationships
  • Having critical parents
  • Parents who expect perfection
  • Moving homes or cities a lot
  • Emotional abuse

Signs and Symptoms of Childhood Trauma

Childhood trauma-related stress can manifest in many different ways.  Emotional reactions like nervousness, worry, sadness, and agitation are common.  Some children become withdrawn from friends and family, have temper tantrums, or are afraid to sleep alone at night.  Older children sometimes go back to behaviors they had outgrown, such as thumb-sucking, bedwetting, or separation anxiety.

Family trauma can also result in physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, and nightmares.

Some children and adults who have experienced traumatic events develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with signs and symptoms such as:

  • Seeing images of the traumatic event
  • Remembering everything in vivid detail
  • Repeatedly recounting what happened
  • Experiencing intense fear and helplessness
  • Having trouble focusing, being confused or disorganized
  • Showing changes in personality (being more aggressive, withdrawn)

If left untreated, trauma experienced at a young age can lead to mental health problems that last well into adulthood, such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse. Often times trauma expands across several generations (intergenerational trauma) and repeats in cycles. This especially occurs with "Little t" trauma.

Signs and Symptoms of Family of Origin Trauma in Adulthood

  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Low self-worth or self-esteem
  • Lack of boundaries with others
  • People pleasing (overextending self or difficulty saying no)
  • Perfectionism
  • Difficulty regulating emotions (lashing out, shutting down, anger)
  • Substance abuse or addiction
  • Chronic anxiety or depression

Getting Help for Family Trauma

Family trauma can affect relationships.  Many parents are unsure how to help their children after a crisis.  Oftentimes, communication breaks down because each family member is struggling in their own way.  Family life can get derailed with missed work and school, irregular mealtimes, overdue household chores, and disrupted schedules.

Family trauma counseling from a mental health professional can help adults and children handle the intense emotions and physical symptoms caused by a traumatic event.  Therapy for family trauma can reopen communication channels, provide a platform to share feelings without judgment, and help each member of the family heal and return to work and responsibilities.

Types of Treatments for Family Trauma

The following modalities can help children and adults understand the normal reactions to traumatic experiences, process feelings, develop coping skills, rebuild trust, reopen communication, and heal from family trauma.

Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT)

TF-CBT is particularly effective in children and teenagers who are experiencing significant emotional difficulties after a traumatic event, as well as their parents and caregivers.  It can help resolve both single and multiple traumatic experiences over 8-25 therapy sessions, including separate therapy sessions with the child and a non-offending caregiver, as well as joint sessions for the whole family.

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)

CPT is effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  It is usually offered over 12 sessions and helps family members learn to identify and address unhelpful thinking patterns related to a traumatic event.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is another effective therapy modality for PTSD.  It uses repetitive eye movements to re-pattern memories related to traumatic experiences.

Prolonged exposure therapy (PET)

PET helps people confront their memories and fears related to trauma.  It is offered to emotionally stable individuals over a period of 3 months.  Children need specialized PET to accommodate their maturity level.

Play therapy

This type of therapy for family trauma is offered to young children (ages 3-12 years) and involves the use of play to address trauma and help the child develop coping skills.

Art therapy

This method of family trauma therapy uses creative expression through drawing, painting, sculpture, etc., to provide an outlet for emotions without words, improve self-esteem, reduce stress, and build emotional resilience.

Narrative therapy

This type of therapy helps you understand your perceptions about yourself and the resultant behaviors.  The therapist works with you to address the stories you tell yourself, which result in damaging narratives.  You learn to re-author your life story and thereby reduce self-loathing and improve self-esteem.

At Nurture and Be Therapy Services, we specialize in counseling and therapy for all types of family trauma and its lasting impacts.  If you would like to speak with one of our licensed therapists, then please contact us today and schedule an appointment.

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