Counselling, Supervision, Training, Research, Teaching, Writing. Providing therapeutic services to the people of East Lancashire and beyond.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Brief Thoughts on Developmental Trauma

An interest of mine at the moment is the idea of 'developmental trauma'. Practitioners and researchers are attempting to include developmental trauma in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) of the American Psychiatric Association. I recently read a brilliant article about this by Mary Sykes Wylie which appeared in the Psychotherapy Networker as "The Long Shadow of Trauma". Wylie writes about the impact of early trauma on later life; but she also writes a fascinating piece about the importance of research in changing the minds of the medical establishment.

Developmental Trauma is the phrase used to describe a cluster of symptoms that result from early experiences of trauma, and in particular abuse and neglect. These experiences leave their mark on brain development (see, for example, this article in Science Daily or this one in New Scientist) and on the child's psychological, emotional, social and moral development. Indeed a child's ability to regulate their emotions and manage their behaviour will be impaired, leaving them vulnerable to alcohol and drug misuse, risk taking, violence, attachment problems and long-term health problems. In my current work as a counsellor I see the signs of developmental trauma; but it was as a probation worker and a youth justice worker, that I saw most clearly the negative impact of early neglect and abuse on the lives of individuals.


Adverse Childhood Experiences Study referred to in the The Long Shadow of Trauma article, this mammoth study is demonstrating the long-term impact of early trauma.

Bessel Van der Kolk's Trauma Centre , website of one of the world's leading experts on post-traumatic stress and including numerous links to other resources

The Social Work Policy Institute has some good research pages on childhood trauma and recovery

National Child Trauma Stress Network, an excellent source of information and statistics about the impact of early abuse and neglect


  1. Thank you John, and very timely. I have been asked to do a teaching slot on Saturday which this links to very nicely. In psychosexual work the evidence for this is clear. Also, it is not always the most glaring forms of abuse and neglect that have appaling consequences. There is so much more of this around than anyone could guess.

  2. Thanks for commenting Tony and I agree with what you say. I was brought up in a family in which there was a lot of mockery and verbal put downs. It would seem to an outsider like we were just have a laugh and getting on with each other. But actually this behaviour had a negative effect on my self-esteem and confidence and it was only through my counselling diploma that I learnt not to behave in this way this with other people.