Wading Through the Muck of Incorrect Labels

complex developmental trauma May 28, 2024

Dear Parent,

Children who have experienced maltreatment--neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse—and/or exposure to various forms of environmental toxins and violence, and in addition have been taken from their birth mother in the first few years of life have Complex Developmental Trauma.  You or your therapist won't find that in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), for diagnosing mental health conditions because it hasn't been accepted into that yet. There is a long, laborious process to get a new diagnosis into the manual, so it will be years before Complex Developmental Trauma Disorder can be diagnosed officially.

That doesn't mean that it cannot be known and treated.  If your child has been diagnosed with PTSD and has attachment breaches, then Complex Developmental Trauma is a more accurate diagnosis. You might ask why that distinction is important.  The number one reason is so that your child will be directed to the most effective treatment if this distinction is recognized.  Hopefully, anyway.

So many of my young clients have been misdiagnosed with ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. They have received every kind of intervention under the sun—Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PTIC), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), child led play therapy, hospitalization, stimulant medications, medical restraint medications, various behavioral (stick and carrot) programs, residential treatment, and in-home buddy supports.  There is a place for each of these interventions, but you can be sure that none of them will be effective without a comprehensive approach with attachment and trauma treatment at the core.  This will also include sensory interventions, therapeutic environmental interventions, attachment-based relational interventions, therapist/parent led play therapy (Theraplay©), and narrative therapy to build a coherent personal story.  Additionally, brain-based therapeutic parenting, parent support and respite, adult attachment assessment and treatment, and child trauma therapy will be needed.  The child's anxiety may look like ADHD, but it often isn't.

You need to be the expert in your own child’s course of treatment.  Big responsibility, but more responsible than leaving your child in the hands of an ill informed professional.

Love matters,


P.S.  Don't forget to REGISTER HERE for my upcoming FREE Webinar on The Truth About Complex Trauma on June 18 and June 25 at 7pm ET and PT.

P.S.S. For an easy to read parent pick me up, get Ce's book, Drowning With My Hair On Fire: Insanity Relief For Adoptive Parents. If you're looking for a quick pick-me-up or a gift for someone you love, visit our Love Matters Swag Store! And, did you know Ce has a new podcast? Yep, you can subscribe to it here: UnMuted Love Podcast with Ce Eshelman. For a comprehensive therapeutic parenting program, check out the Love Matters Parenting Society.  

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