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  • Adam Stanford

Developmental Trauma Disorder

As a therapist who has worked with clients experiencing Developmental Trauma Disorder (DTD), I know firsthand the complexity of this diagnosis. Clients with DTD often experience a variety of symptoms that can impact their daily lives including anxiety, depression, and difficulty forming healthy relationships. In this article, I'll explore the role of attachment styles in DTD and how understanding these styles can help in the healing process.

Introduction to Developmental Trauma Disorder (DTD)

Developmental Trauma Disorder is a diagnosis that is relatively new in the field of psychology. It is used to describe individuals who have experienced chronic trauma during childhood that has impacted their development. This trauma can include physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, but it can also have other causes including neglect, absent parents, unstable home environment, and feeling unloved or uncared for at a young age going back even to infancy.

DTD is different from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because it focuses on the impact of trauma on development, rather than just the traumatic event itself. In other words, the trauma occurred during the most critical time of brain development during which the individual was forming their most fundamental understanding of the world around them and their role in it.

Traditional Therapy vs. Trauma-Informed Therapy

Traditional therapy can be helpful for some individuals dealing with anxiety and depression symptoms. However, when it comes to trauma, traditional therapy may not provide the support needed to address the root cause of the symptoms. Trauma-informed therapy, on the other hand, is a more specialized form of therapy that focuses on the impact of trauma on an individual's mental and emotional well-being.

Trauma-informed therapy is grounded in the principles of safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, and empowerment. It recognizes the unique needs of individuals who have experienced trauma and provides a safe and supportive environment for them to process their experiences. I have completed extensive training to better understand trauma and how it impacts the human body and especially the brain.

Signs and Symptoms of DTD

The signs and symptoms of DTD can vary widely from person to person. Some individuals may experience more physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches, while others may struggle with emotional regulation or forming healthy relationships. Common symptoms of DTD may include:

  • Anxiety and depression

  • Flashbacks or nightmares

  • Difficulty regulating emotions

  • Difficulty forming healthy relationships

  • Self-harm or suicidal ideation

  • Substance abuse or addiction

It is important to note that these symptoms can be present in individuals without DTD as well. A trained mental health professional should perform a thorough assessment to determine if DTD is an appropriate diagnosis.

Diagnosis and Treatment of DTD

The diagnosis of DTD can be difficult, as it requires a thorough understanding of a client's developmental history and experiences. A mental health professional may use a combination of interviews, questionnaires, and observation to determine if a client meets the criteria for DTD. Therapy may include a variety of approaches, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and psychodynamic therapy. Medication may be used to help manage symptoms such as anxiety or depression.

Understanding Attachment Styles

Attachment styles are patterns of behavior that develop in childhood in response to a child's relationship with their primary caregiver. These styles can impact how an individual forms relationships throughout their life. There are four main attachment styles:

  • Secure attachment

  • Ambivalent attachment

  • Avoidant attachment

  • Disorganized attachment

Individuals with DTD may struggle with forming healthy attachment styles due to their traumatic experiences. Understanding attachment styles is important in the healing process, as it can help individuals identify patterns of behavior that may be impacting their relationships.

How Attachment Styles Develop

Attachment styles develop in response to a child's relationship with their primary caregiver. A child who experiences consistent, loving care from their caregiver is more likely to develop a secure attachment style. However, if a child experiences inconsistent or neglectful care, they may develop an ambivalent, avoidant, or disorganized attachment style. Individuals with DTD may have experienced a variety of traumatic events that impacted their relationship with their primary caregiver. This may have resulted in an attachment style that is not conducive to forming healthy relationships.

Approaches to Healing DTD through Attachment Styles

Healing DTD through attachment styles involves identifying patterns of behavior that are impacting relationships and working to change them. This can involve therapy that focuses on developing a secure attachment style or addressing and healing attachment wounds.

Therapists may use a variety of approaches to help individuals heal their attachment styles. For example, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns related to attachment. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can help individuals regulate their emotions and develop mindfulness skills which allow the person to be more objective and present in the moment rather than projecting their past experiences onto current situations. Psychodynamic therapy can help individuals explore the impact of their early experiences on their current relationships.

Self-Help Strategies for Healing DTD

Self-help strategies can be an important part of healing from DTD. These strategies can include:

  • Practicing mindfulness and meditation

  • Engaging in regular exercise

  • Connecting with supportive friends and family members

  • Keeping a journal to process emotions and experiences

  • Learning healthy coping skills, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation

While self-help strategies can be helpful, it is important to note that they should not replace professional treatment for DTD.


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