Dan Mager is the Administrator for the Vance Johnson Recovery Center. In this blog, Dan uses his years of mental health and addiction experience to explain trauma-informed care and how clients benefit from this treatment modality at our addiction recovery facility.
Extensive research indicates an extremely high percentage of people with histories of addiction have experienced trauma, and increasingly trauma is viewed as the predominant gateway “drug.” The connection between trauma and addiction is a two-way street: trauma increases the risk that addiction will develop and continue, and active addiction increases the likelihood of experiencing trauma.
Trauma is a mind-body reaction that occurs in response to events that involve death or the possibly of death, serious injury, or threats to one’s physical and/or psychological security. In other words, trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that disrupt a person’s sense of safety and security. Oftentimes, these events lead to feelings of vulnerability and helplessness.
Traumatic events overwhelm an individual’s ability to cope with the emotions, sensations, and other information connected with that experience. Trauma may involve a single brief event, an event that lasts for hours or days, a series of events, or a situation that is ongoing. The word “trauma” is often used as shorthand for both events and their impact. This occurs because the actual experience of violence or disaster and the aftereffects on one’s sense of self and safety are intertwined.
Although traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and alone can be traumatic, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. Traumatizing events can be directly experienced, witnessed, or even learned about from others. In general, the closer to the event someone is, the more traumatized they are likely to become. In other words, those who directly experience the event are more likely to be traumatized than those who witnessed or learned about it, and those who witnessed the event are more likely to be traumatized than those who learned about it indirectly. Moreover, the more severe an event is and the longer it lasts, the more likely that it will traumatize someone.
Trauma Can Take Many Forms
When we think of trauma, what typically comes to mind are horrific events such as war, acts of terrorism, natural disasters, plane or train crashes, motor vehicle accidents, or violent crimes. People often refer to these as “Big-T” traumas. Big-T traumas are experiences with clear beginnings and end points.
Tragically, many people experience trauma within their own families. More obvious forms of trauma in the family include being subjected to and/or witnessing physical or sexual abuse. Yet, the majority of people experience a more subtle and chronic form of trauma. Sometimes known as “small-t” traumas, they come from repetitive experiences that usually occur during childhood and adolescence.
Small-t traumas can be any life experience that causes lasting harm to a person’s sense of self and self-esteem. They often result from various forms of abandonment and rejection that children experience when their parents/primary caregivers are not physically or emotionally available in the ways those children need. Name-calling, put-downs, verbal abuse, living with the uncertainty of not knowing if or when a parent is coming home, or the fear that comes with listening to one’s parents routinely fight can be traumatic for any child. These traumas are common for people in recovery, especially those who grew up in addicted, violent, impoverished, or otherwise unstable or unsafe family systems and neighborhoods
On a surface level, I believe that most people have a sense of the impacts of trauma. Nobody questions why a child bitten by a dog may feel nervous upon their next interaction with an over-eager puppy. But this phenomenon goes beyond anecdotal experiences. In many cases, the trauma that one experiences plays a large role in the mental health care that they will need in the future. This is where trauma-informed care makes all the difference.
I’d like to discuss the many benefits of trauma-informed care and the unique utility that it offers in both addiction recovery and mental-health-focused treatment.
What Is Trauma-Informed Care?
As the name suggests, in trauma-informed care the treatment, goals, and methodologies take into account a client’s trauma. Given the clear relationship between trauma and addiction, all facets of treatment at VJRC are trauma-informed, incorporating an understanding of the impact of violence and psychological trauma in the lives of our clients and interpreting symptoms and behaviors within the context of their traumatic history.
At the Vance Johnson Recovery Center (VJRC), we see many examples of this approach to care on a daily basis. Take, for example, a client admitted to our treatment center with a long history of meth addiction.
In a setting that did not offer trauma-informed care, this client would go through the typical rehabilitation process. And while that might still be helpful, it would be more limited and fundamentally less therapeutic. Were she to attend an individual therapy session, her counselor’s experience might be exclusive to addiction. So while she could get help dealing with parts of her addiction, she would not have the opportunity to address the underlying trauma that both contributes to and is a further consequence of her drug abuse. This could endanger her ongoing recovery given the potential for relapse due to unaddressed trauma.
This is precisely the sort of issue that trauma-informed care helps to mitigate. For example, at VJRC, the same woman from the above scenario would have a very different experience. Throughout her individualized treatment program, she would speak with professionals not only well-versed in addiction treatment, but also in working through trauma. In her individual therapy sessions, she would discuss her entire history with addiction, including traumatic experience(s). By allowing expression of and treating these underlying issues, she would experience much higher odds of achieving and maintaining long-term recovery.
Trauma-Informed Care Is Available
We are proud to offer trauma-informed addiction treatment at the Vance Johnson Recovery Center. Providing trauma-informed care is simply an extension of our overall approach to comprehensive treatment that encompasses mind, body, and spirit. If you or a loved one need treatment, please call our admissions specialists at 1-772-210-3794, or fill out our confidential contact form. In whatever way you are ready to reach out for help, our skilled, multidisciplinary team is ready to assist you.
Dan Mager, MSW, has more than 20 years of post-Master’s experience as a psychotherapist and clinical administrator in a wide range of behavioral health and addiction treatment settings. He also has over 10 years of experience ghostwriting and editing wellness-related books and developing solution-oriented skills-building materials in the form of guidebooks, workbooks, and curricula for the professional and recovery communities, and the general public.