Trauma and attachment
We are the UK’s leading and ‘go to’ team for trauma and attachment, working with dozens of local authorities and supporting a host of children and young people, including adopted children that had trauma prior to their adoptive placement.
What is trauma?
Trauma is often caused by a natural disaster, pandemic, war combat, childhood sexual, physical or emotional abuse usually by a known person. It can also be caused by witnessing abuse, an accident, school or sudden death of a loved one.
Trauma may ‘destroy the social systems of care, protection, and meaning that support human life. The recovery process requires the reconstruction of these systems. The essential features of psychological trauma are disempowerment and disconnection from others. The recovery process therefore is based upon empowerment of the survivor and restoration of relationships’.
Judith L.Herman 2002
It can be identified as
- Acute: This results from a single stressful or dangerous event.
- Chronic: This results from repeated and prolonged exposure to highly stressful events. Examples include cases of child abuse, bullying, or domestic violence.
- Complex: This results from exposure to multiple traumatic events.
What is attachment?
John Bowlby saw attachment as ‘the secure base which a child moves out into the world’ . The secure base are parents ‘who are deemed the primary attachment figures. Parents are there to promote ‘their child’s survival and wellbeing’ and futuristically ‘become attachment figures to their own children’.
Bessel Van de Kolk encapsulates the five decades of research by explaining attachment as being the safe haven ‘which promotes self-reliance and instills a sense of sympathy and helpfulness to others in distress’. This enables a child to learn that ‘other people have feelings and thoughts that are both similar and different from theirs, which develops their self-awareness, empathy, impulse control and self-motivation’. Thus, providing the necessary steppingstones to independence and becoming a contributing individual in a broader social society.
How do We Support?
When working with any child who has experienced trauma, we are aware that there are usually 3 phases in trauma recovery to enable each child to develop positive inner wellbeing with their self and others.
- Phase 1: Safety and Stability - establishing safety
- Phase 2: Remembering and Grieving - retelling the story of the traumatic event
- Phase 3: Restoring Relationships- reconnecting with others
Judith L.Herman 2002
As trauma informed and sensory attachment Occupational Therapists, we are unique in our therapy and intervention application due to our dual qualifications bridging both psychology and neurology and further post graduated qualifications in sensory integration.
Our sensory attachment and trauma response therapy is tailored to support children who present with traumatic responses, have historical disrupted attachment, have experienced early and developmental trauma and sensory dysregulation. We ensure that the treatment is appropriate to the child's stage of recovery.
In most cases, we work with children who have not reached phase 1 in their trauma recovery due to their strategies being orientated around their trauma experiences such as emotional instability and underdeveloped autonomic nervous system.
As well as being in a constant state of survival trauma experiences will impact on developing a positive attachment with their parents, siblings and peers.
Our assessments and reviews are to understand
- The child’s sensory, motor and emotional profiles which have developed due to their early childhood traumas,
- The triggers and responses they are now experiencing in their everyday functional and occupational living e.g., their home, school, and community
- How they physically and verbally react, respond and function to overcome their daily challenges.
Our Interventions work on stages 1 and 3.
- Are child orientated
- Involve parents/carers in their child’s emotional development
- Establish a child’s self-awareness, essential trust and acceptance
- Enabling a child to develop emotional and sensory regulation starting with parents, siblings and later educational settings
- Works on reducing the child’s habituated survival responses i.e., fight/ flight/freeze/fawn and dissociative
- Support parents in developing positive co-regulation, developing and strengthening attachment with their child and other siblings.
Bessel van der Kolk, researcher on developmental trauma, maintains that a ‘primary function' of parents is to help children learn to manage their own arousal.
- Build the necessary preliminary foundations in restoring positive relationships to enable a child to later work with Psychologists and Psychotherapists in expressing their past.
AT CTS we provide the preliminary foundations in developing essential regulation and positive relationships.
Our aim is:
To ‘enable individuals to reflect upon the conditions surrounding their behaviour, to practise new responses in safety, and ultimately to learn to fit strategy to context to yield maximum safety and comfort’
Our Overall aim
‘Is to enable the child to move forward in their trauma recovery journey. Our therapy is to maturate the nervous system, develop both sensory and emotional regulation and provide a secure attachment for the child, their parents, siblings, and educational settings.
By providing a solid foundation where challenges are seen as achievable with the intention to enable the child to move forward and face every day experiences positively.’