Perceptions of therapy and counseling are not without stereotype, and one of the most common misconceptions is that therapists will always blame an issue on the patients’ parents. While this is certainly an over-reach, it’s well documented that things we experience in our childhood do impact how we experience the world from there forward. This includes positive influences such as hobbies and values, but also includes psychological baggage from particularly traumatic experiences. Understanding the connections between childhood trauma and adult mental health has value on both ends. It helps adults in counseling to work through not only what they experienced, but how it influenced where they are today. This understanding also helps counselors do as much as they can to prevent young trauma survivors from experiencing extended psychological consequences.
To that end, two new studies came out in recent days that draw such connections between childhood trauma and adult mental health concerns. One, from Monash University in Victoria, Australia, looked at the connections between sexual abuse in childhood and mental illness in adulthood. Previous studies have already shown that kids who experience sexual abuse are at a much higher risk for depression, anxiety, suicidal behavior, and substance abuse. But this new study looked closer to determine whether specific types of abuse lead to even more severe psychological consequences, including schizophrenia. They concluded that to best support the mental health of abuse survivors, therapy and counseling shouldn’t stop after dealing with the experience itself: it should also extend into the transition to adulthood, helping survivors establish adult coping skills.
A second study, this one from Sweden, looked at connections between the childhood loss of a parent and suicidal behavior later on. They compared whether the parent died in a sudden accident or by suicide, and also compared between the loss of mothers and fathers. All of the kids who lost a parent were likely to need counseling for depression and other mental health concerns growing up, and this is understandable. The loss of a loved one is an emotionally devastating experience at any age, let alone a child losing a parent. But by identifying which situations put kids at an even greater psychological risk, studies like these can help make sure that as many preventative measures, psychotherapy or otherwise, reach these kids as possible.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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