Trauma therapists work with children and adults who suffer from developmental trauma disorder. This form of trauma involves exposure to a wide range of adverse experiences during sensitive periods of brain development, disrupting interpersonal attachments and compromising core assumptions about personal safety. It results in persistent and severe psychiatric symptoms, functional impairments, and high rates of comorbidities.
Survivors of this kind of trauma display a wide array of distressing and unpredictable behaviors in the therapy room, and many find it very difficult to connect with others. Their symptoms are often misdiagnosed, and they are less likely to receive trauma-informed treatment than other groups of children and adolescents.
The Impact of Developmental Trauma on Childhood Development
In addition to helping trauma survivors internalize a sense of safety, predictability, and connection to self in their relationship with the therapist, it is critical to provide psychoeducation about the impact of these early experiences on their lives. Then they can better understand why they respond the way that they do, and develop their own tools for attuning to self and others with greater ease.
Ford, Spinazzola, and van der Kolk have called for the use of a new diagnosis—developmental trauma disorder (DTD)—to help trauma clinicians more accurately assess these children and adolescents, improve their care, and ensure that these children are treated by clinicians who offer a holistic approach to childhood trauma. They argue that DTD can be more accurate than PTSD because it takes into account that traumatic experiences occur during sensitive periods of brain development, and because a lack of secure attachment relationships is linked to an increased risk for the effects of trauma.