Ever since the Vietnam War era, we have understood that the flashbacks, nightmares, acute startle reactions, emotional numbing, behavioral avoidance and other severe adjustment problems that some veterans subjected to the horror of war have when they return home is a condition now termed post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. PTSD is an acknowledged clinical entity in the diagnostic manual used by psychiatrists and psychologists in our practices. Less well known, however, is the reality that there are roughly 10 times more children who are traumatized in the United States every year than soldiers who return from Afghanistan and Iraq with PTSD. Except for the most egregious examples, the plight of these children is not a matter of public or policy attention.
Trauma expert and psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, MD, highlights this problem in his May 11, 2011, New York Times Op-Ed. He emphasizes that proper treatment of these children can prevent later severe emotional, psychological and behavioral problems with all the attendant family and social adverse consequences. He quotes a Pew Charitable Trust estimate that the cost to our society of childhood abuse is $103.8 billion! He was moved to write because of the proposed 70 percent reduction in the paltry $40 million currently allocated to support a network of clinics that have been created to treat traumatized children.
Inadequate treatment of childhood abuse, however, will have even greater consequences because we now know that childhood trauma and abuse can have far reaching negative effects on adult physical health. In a landmark study, the Adverse Childhood Events study carried out at Kaiser Permanente, striking evidence emerged that many adults who experienced abuse and trauma as children later suffer chronic health problems including obesity, substance abuse, hypertension, cancer and chronic lung disease, among others. Beyond these medical conditions, these children are at great risk for life-long relationship problems and problems with social adjustment. Unrecognized and left untreated, these children are more likely to grow up and abuse their own children creating a generational trauma effect.
Early identification and treatment can interrupt this cycle and stop this suffering.
Without early intervention, the risk is that most traumatized will remain inadequately treated and when they become adults the roots of their medical problems will elude their physicians. If the patient has a diagnosable condition (hypertension, say), doctors can prescribe medicine to treat it. Successful treatment that isn’t- the patient’s life-long compromised health related to childhood trauma is unlikely to be explored. However, many of these patients have conditions where no definitive medical test exists and thus no single diagnosable condition will be found (a good example is metabolic syndrome). These patients often go from doctor to doctor having more tests and procedures to identify the underlying disease. The more this continues the greater the risk that a patient will develop an iatrogenic condition due to unwanted effects of medications or unsuccessful surgeries. Ironically, these patients often feel traumatized by the very health care system that was supposed to care for them- the same feeling they had when they were abused when they were growing up. Throughout this ordeal, few doctors will take the time to hear the patient’s complete history and recognize that the patient is dealing with life-long stress and adjustment problems that are connected to a traumatic childhood. And when physicians are aware of the need to intervene more holistically, they lack knowledge of the many effective treatment approaches that exist to help these patients.
Those of us working in the field of integrative medicine have long seen the link between childhood abuse and later emotional and physical health problems. To give just one example, we recognize that a significant proportion of the fibromyalgia patients we treat have a history of childhood abuse and trauma.
An integrative treatment approach, such as what we use at WholeHealth Chicago, draws from many treatment options and aims to activate the patient’s innate self-healing ability. Symptoms can be addressed through the use of appropriate and carefully monitored medications. Pain and muscular-skeletal problems can be addressed with chiropractic care, massage therapy, physical therapy, Healing Touch and qigong. We employ a range of energetic therapies, like Traditional Chinese Medicine (acupuncture, herbs, massage, medical qigong, and more), Homeopathy, Flower Essences, and Energy Psychology. We can promote healing through nutritional counseling and support the establishment of life-long skills for self-care. We use integrative psychotherapy to help people face and get free from their past, improve relationships, learn how to care for themselves, promote emotional self-regulation, and identify and pursue their life purpose. Under this integrative umbrella, many of our patients who lived through traumatic childhoods, along with many who didn’t but still suffer from chronic conditions that the conventional medical system did not successfully address, start feeling better, and take important steps in their personal healing journey.
Larry Stoler, MSSA, PhD, DCEP
WholeHealth Chicago, 773-296-6700 x2317
Certified Tao of Medical Qigong Practitioner