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Tending the Root: The Importance of Trauma Informed Care

Updated 21 February 2016 Written by Clint Mally

Once upon a time, there was an orchardist. She lived in a lush valley with a running creek and healthy soil. She planted a variety of trees: apples, pears, cherries, and tended them with love.

As the years went by, most of the trees grew tall and strong and began to bear fruit. However, there was one pear tree in the corner of the orchard that never seemed to flourish.

No matter how devotedly she watered and pruned the tree and gave it extra fertilizer, it always struggled to thrive. No matter what she tried, she could not get the tree to bear fruit. She had almost decided to give up on the tree until one spring night, there was a huge rainstorm.

Lightning crashed and water came down with torrential force and volume. The next morning, as the orchardist walked amongst her trees, she noticed that some of the soil in the orchard had washed away.

To her amazement, she discovered something peaking out of the soil near the roots of her one, troubled pear tree.  As she moved aside the loose earth, she discovered a thick plastic bag surrounding the tree’s roots.

It must have been accidentally planted along with the tree. The bag had been impeding the tree’s growth for years! The orchardist took a shovel and excavated the earth around the tree. She carefully cut and removed the plastic, allowing the roots to grow free.

She mixed a blend of new soil full of nutrients and re-filled in the empty space. She carefully tended the tree and as time went by, it began to flourish! The next fall, the tree bore the first of fruit and to her, it was the sweetest of all.

What does this story have to do with addiction and recovery? For decades, drug treatment has focused mostly on managing the symptoms of the addiction.

We have offered extra fertilizer or tough love “pruning” approaches to those who struggle. As a culture, we haven’t had a deep understanding of where the issue comes from and therefore, haven’t been able to focus on the root of recovery.

But as addiction, mental health, and trauma research has grown stronger and these topics less taboo, researchers have begun to speak out about the strong correlations between the three.

In a landmark study published in 2010 by the National Institute of Health, researchers discovered that in surveys of adolescents receiving treatment for substance abuse, more than 70% of patients had a history of trauma exposure. (1)

As a result of these experiences, many of them did not have a sense of safety as a child. As they grew older, they turned to substances to provide that feeling for them.

While people can accidentally say or do things to hurt us, many substances are dependable and predictable; they provide a kind of sanctuary (albeit destructive and unsustainable) for those in need.

What’s even more interesting is that more than half of Americans have experienced trauma! In a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego between 1995 and 1997, over 17, 0000 Americans were polled on how safe they felt as a child.

Only 36% reported feeling universally safe, loved, and nurtured when they were young. From physical, emotional, or drug abuse at home, to divorce and traumatic accidents or life circumstances, the majority of Americans experienced some form of trauma.

Unless a child’s trauma is processed in the moment, or we are taught healthy coping skills to help us feel safe, we unconsciously tend to go through life searching for anything to fill the hole left by the lack of security.

For some, we turn to a food, work, or technology addiction. For others, it can be alcohol or drugs.

Understanding this correlation makes a huge difference when treating substance abuse and addiction. Professionals who understand this connection are trained in addressing the deeper issue, not just focusing on symptoms.

Trauma Informed Care is a term used to describe a framework for treatment that focuses on healing and releasing trauma, often the deeper root of substance abuse and addiction.

Trauma Informed Care incorporates evidence-based practices that focus on brain and body somatic exercises to release trauma and instill a sense of safety.

Another premise of Trauma Informed Care is designing treatment protocol and systems that minimize the risk of re-traumatization. In research, studies are proving Trauma Informed Care to have better outcomes than “treatment as usual.” (3)

If you or your loved one is struggling to flourish, there may be a deeper, unprocessed cause at the root. Like the orchardist in the story above, the recovery community is starting to dig down and heal the root of addiction issues with compassion.

It’s important when seeking help to find a team who understands how to lovingly address deeper trauma and release it in a healthy way. Our natural path is to thrive, and if tended correctly, we can all bear fruit.

 

Resources & References

(1) Khoury, Tang, Bradley, Cubells, and  Ressler, “Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an urban civilian population.” US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 27 December, 2010

(2) Prevalence of Individual Adverse Childhood Experiences, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention, May 13, 2014

(3) Cocozza, J.J., Jackson, E.W., Hennigan, K., Morrissey, J.B., Reed, B.G., & Fallot, R. (2005). Outcomes for women with co-occurring disorders and trauma: Program-level effects. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 28(2), 109-119.

 

Further Resources:

http://www.samhsa.gov/nctic/trauma-interventions – Trauma Interventions

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207191/ – Understanding the Impacts of Trauma

About Sandstone Care

Sandstone Care is a Denver, Colorado-based treatment program for young adults and adolescents struggling with substance abuse and co-occurring disorders.

Sandstone Care offers a full continuum of outpatient care including Extended Care, Day Treatment, Intensive Outpatient, and General Outpatient Programs for young adults (ages 18-30) and adolescents (ages 13-18).

Sandstone Care believes that successful outcomes are achieved through a systemic, evidence-based approach that addresses the entire individual as well as their environment – this means providing academic & vocational support to help individuals achieve their goals and discover their strengths, family participation to educate and support the entire family system, psychiatric and dietitian evaluations and support to promote a healthy mind and body, as well as community-based activities along with the more traditional evidence-based group and individual therapy.

If you or a loved one needs additional support, call our confidential line, at (888) 850 1890 or fill out the form on our website, and our admissions team will be able to answer any questions as well as guide you and your loved ones toward the path of long-lasting recovery. For more information, visit sandstonecare.com.

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