Early childhood trauma comes with a lot of challenges for the individual and the family. Individuals with early trauma may struggle in school, particularly with math and reading, they often have an ADHD diagnosis, they may struggle with making and keeping friends, often show either explosive reactions or they shut down completely. Mood instability is common, as is going into a fear response (fight, flight, freeze) at unexpected times and for unexpected reasons. Intense daydreams, lying, making up stories, fits, food hoarding, and much more are all related to childhood trauma.
How we respond
The key to working with early trauma is a “bottom-up” approach. The brain develops from brainstem to cortex, so our interventions need to meet the need of the lower brain, then work our way up. Many who have tried therapy in the past have found that talk therapy only works so well. It’s the difference between knowing something in our head and feeling that it’s true in our core. There are four domains we look at: sensory integration, regulation, relational, and cognitive.
Most counseling interventions take a cognitive approach, which absolutely has it’s place, but that can get discouraging for those with early trauma. Sometimes it’s a “both/and” kind of situation. We often recommend neurofeedback when there are sensory issues. An occupation therapist is also wonderful when dealing with sensory integration issues. Regulation is next—we need to help calm the brain, which we do with neurofeedback. After that is relational—this might look like social skills groups, equine therapy, or attachment based-therapy. Last is cognitive work, which is talk therapy.
The “both/and” approach is important because with neurofeedback, just because you can read, it doesn’t mean you can see. Just because the brain is calm, it doesn’t mean a person knows how to name and communicate what they’re feeling in an appropriate way—that’s a skill that needs be learned. Many benefit from a combination of neurofeedback and counseling/parent coaching.