Here are the 5 things Oprah understands about childhood trauma that excite us most
1. Dr. Bruce Perry knows what he’s talking about. Frankly, there’s a lot of clinicians that think they understand the effects of trauma. But they don’t. Bruce Perry, Daniel Siegel, and Bessel van der Kolk do. We’ve been following their work for years and molding our treatment model accordingly. We wish others would too.
2. It’s a brain thing. When trauma occurs within the critical early stages of life, it affects the brain. It’s not just a “phase that people get over” or “outgrow” as many people believe.Rather, childhood trauma requires early and effective professional help.
3. “It” should be called developmental trauma. This makes far more sense than the term reactive attachment disorder (RAD), which is in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5. The current definition of RAD in the DSM-5 is failing clinicians, and therefore, kids and families. Trauma during the critical early developmental years hinders development. Therefore, children remain cognitively “stuck” in those toddler years. Let’s call it what it is and define the disorder accordingly so clinicians can start to recognize and treat it effectively.
3. Childhood trauma is an important topic for our culture. Absolutely. Childhood trauma doesn’t just affect children. It follows them through adulthood. It fills our prisons. It enters our schools, alongside mental illness. With guns. Time to wake up.
4. A lot of people working in philanthropic organizations to help “disadvantaged, challenged people…are working on the wrong thing,” said Oprah. Yes, struggling people need education, healthy living, housing, and jobs. But if we don’t help them with their “hole in the soul”, as Oprah so perfectly puts it, nothing will help them. We need to work on their trauma so they can lead healthier lives.
Furthermore, to put children with childhood trauma in residential treatment centers, rely upon behavior modification techniques, or treat them for substance abuse issues won’t touch the trauma either. They need a relationship-focused milieu combined with attachment specialists to make a difference (ahem…we’d love to grow our program but need support and resources).
5. What happened to the Parkland, Florida shooter? As Oprah said, we need to look beyond what’s wrong with these violent children. We need to look at what happened to them. Trauma begets trauma in our families, communities, and in the world. To put resources toward gun control and mental health is good but we need to look at the “hole in the soul” too. And we need to support those raising them.
Awareness is vital. As Oprah said, if we “could get on the tabletops right now to get people to pay attention to [treating childhood trauma],” we would. We’d like to be a dancing emoji too, Oprah. But we also need people to act.
Here’s what’s we’ll be listening for Sunday night—
This Sunday, March 11 will be a big night for the trauma community. The people who “get it” will gather around to hear Oprah’s interview with Dr. Bruce Perry about childhood trauma on 60 Minutes on CBS at 7:00 p.m. ET. While we’re ecstatic that Oprah understands childhood trauma, here’s what we hope she covers as well—
1. There’s an army of loving, amazing adults all over the world caring for children with developmental trauma. Yet, they get blamed and shamed when they ask for help. People who raise children suffering the effects of childhood trauma, including adoptive and foster families, “get it” because they live it every day. Sadly, most people don’t understand this basic concept. Instead, their friends and family, as well as clinicians, educators, case managers, and policy makers ignore them. Or worse, they often blame them for their children’s problems. Parents can’t do it alone.
2. There’s a severe shortage of professionals and resources to address this huge worldwide problem. Even if professionals have heard about childhood trauma, they often don’t know what to do about it. We’re happy that people are starting to talk about “trauma-informed” practices. But, actually, people have been “informed” for quite a while. We need to train clinicians to effectively diagnose and treat it.
3. Many children with developmental trauma also have co-morbid mental illnesses.We believe that people who abuse and neglect children do so as a result of their own trauma combined with mental illness. So their children are at high-risk for childhood trauma and genetic mental illness too. Yet, most clinicians have a difficult time deciphering, and therefore diagnosing and treating, these many issues. Children can’t begin to work on their trauma if the effects of mental illness get in their way.
4. Children with developmental trauma don’t want to attach. Due to early abuse and neglect, children with developmental trauma live in “survival mode”. This means they’ll do everything they possibly can to protect themselves from attachment—even though that’s the very thing they need most. Children with developmental trauma use manipulation and disturbing behaviors to push away those who try to get close to them in devastating ways. To simply put caring adults in their lives isn’t enough. They need training and professional help.
5. Our foster care system fails kids battling childhood trauma. Foster and adoptive parents don’t get what they need to effectively care for children with developmental trauma. To deny them resources and training lends to the cycle of children in and out of the foster care system, perpetuating the effects of trauma.
6. Love alone won’t fix childhood trauma. Adoption and foster families can’t save these children on their own. Although a stable and loving environment is vital, it’s only the beginning.
Awareness is a giant first step toward effectively treating childhood trauma. “I’ve done a lot of stories in my lifetime,” said Oprah. “But I think this is the key…I think this could be a game changer. I just want people to listen.” Oprah, we whole-heartedly agree. But parents in the trenches and organizations like ours need resources and a giant megaphone to save more of these children. We’re glad Oprah is listening. And we’ll be listening too this Sunday night.
By Nichole Noonan, Institute for Attachment and Child Development Communications Director