Twelve Examples Of Traumatic Childhood Experiences

Below I list, and briefly describe, ten traumatic experiences that may befall us in childhood (although they are in no particular order) :

1) The death of a person to whom the child has a strong emotional bond, especially a parent.

2) Divorce of parents, especially when the divorce is acrimonious

3) Abuse (which may be emotional, sexual, physical or a combination of these)

4) Natural disasters (particularly those that make the child feel intensely helpless and vulnerable, expose the child to the threat of, or actual, severe danger or harm, or are life a threatening).

5) Violence : this may include witnessing a parent being physically assaulted (domestic violence), exposure to gun violence, war, gang violence and physical bullying

6) Moving : this may be traumatic as it may entail the child  having to change schools, leave old friends behind, make new friends (especially difficult for shy children, children who lack confidence and children with low self-esteem), adjust to a new location (and, possibly, even to a new culture), change schools etc. The stress of these changes is exacerbated by the fact that, usually, the child has no control over the move and may not have any say in the matter whatsoever, even if it will severely disrupt his/her life.

7) Medical Crisis : such as serious illness, major surgery or an extended stay in hospital

8) Related to the above is the trauma caused by having a serious accident, especially one that is life threatening or leads to the child experiencing a protracted period of significant pain

9) Adoption: may involve the child having to adjust to new primary caregivers, a new location, loss of relationship with previous caregivers, loss of old friends and exposure to many other stressors – read my post about the effects of adoption on children here.

10) Neglect : this may involve physical neglect and/or emotional neglect – read my post about the effects of neglect on children here

11) Growing up in poverty – read my post about the effects of growing up in poverty on children here.

12) Growing up with a mentally ill parent – read my post about the effects of growing up with a mentally ill parent here.


It is often said that children are very resilient – sadly, this is wishful thinking on a very grand scale as, in fact, the opposite is the case. The myth that children are resilient is perhaps most often perpetuated and  made reference to by those who have a vested interest in minimizing the adverse effects of childhood trauma.


Children’s brains, because they are still developing, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of trauma. Often, however, the full, devastating impact does not become apparent until years after the traumatic experience which sometimes gives the illusion that children are resilient.

So what factors can, at least, make a child less vulnerable to the adverse affects of trauma?

The most important factor that decreases a child’s vulnerability to adverse effects of trauma is to have a stable, emotionally supportive relationship with at least one primary caregiver (ideally a parent).

According to the researcher Edith Grotberg, an expert in the field of child resilience, children can derive strength to help them cope with trauma and adversity from three key sources; these are:




Let’s briefly examine each of these in turn :

social and interpersonal supports include having :

  • people around who are utterly trustworthy and love the child unconditionally
  • people around who set the child a good example of how to behave
  • people around that give the child boundaries to keep him/her safe
  • people around who teach the child self-reliance and autonomy
  • people around who are protective and nurturing towards the child

inner strengths include:

  • consideration for others
  • a likeable personality
  • self-respect
  • a sense of personal responsibility
  • an optimistic disposition

interpersonal and problem solving skills include:

  • self-control / ability to control dangerous impulses
  • willingness to discuss fears/problems/worries with others
  • access to people who can provproblems
  • ability to work out solutions to problems



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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

How Deeply Do You Need To Be Hypnotized For Therapeutic Benefits?

hypnosis levels

Many people assume that the more deeply a person is hypnotized, the more likely it is that s/he will derive therapeutic benefit from the hypnotherapy session. However, this is not the case. In fact, for most (but not all) problems an individual seeks to address through undergoing hypnotherapy, only a light hypnotic state is necessary.

Below I list the six levels of hypnosis a person can potentially experience (I say potentially as not all people are equally responsive to the process of hypnotic induction) and then go on to explain how each of these levels affect the hypnotized individual together with which problems are best dealt with according to the specific level of hypnosis into which the individual has been induced :

Six Levels Of Hypnosis :

1) light catalepsy

2) moderate catalepsy

3) deep catalepsy

(Catalepsy is characterized by a trance like state, lowered activity of the conscious brain and reduced registering of the external environment by the senses).

4) analgesia / no stress

(Analgesia is the loss of the sensation of pain)

5) light anaesthesia

6) deep anaesthesia

Now let’s look at which levels are best suited to the treatment of which conditions :

Levels 1-3 (Alpha brain wave activity) :

An individual at these levels of hypnosis responds best to hypnotherapy for, for example:

– the elimination of habits (such as nail biting)

– anxiety

– confidence

– sexual dysfunction

– motivation

(this is far from an exhaustive list).

Another benefit of being hypnotized at these first three levels is that they encourage the production of serotonin in the brain (a lack of which is associated with clinical depression).

Levels 4-5 (Delta brain wave activity) :

These two levels of hypnosis may be utilized so that an individual may undergo dentistry work without the need of anaesthetic. They may also be induced in the patient to facilitate minor surgery.

Finally, these levels of hypnosis may be used to help a patient relive traumatic experiences (a technique for treating PTSD) whilst feeling safe and secure. Obviously, this requires a relevantly qualified and experienced hypnotherapist.

Level 6 (Theta brain wave activity) :

This deepest level is sometimes used to facilitate psychosomatic healing.


To reiterate, then, for most problems levels 1-3 (see above) are the most appropriate levels of hypnosis into which the individual should be induced.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Hypnosis For Anxiety

hypnosis for anxiety

If we suffered significant and protracted trauma during our childhoods, we are far more likely than those who were fortunate enough to have experienced a relatively stable and secure upbringing (all else being) to develop severe anxiety and associated conditions in adulthood.

We feel anxiety when we perceive a threat (and the threat may be real or imagined).

Our perception of being under threat causes stress hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol, to be released into the brain.

The release of these stress hormones into the body can result in distressing physical sensations; these differ depending upon the particular individual concerned and include the following (to list just a few examples):

– headaches

– stomach aches

– dry mouth

– trembling

– heart palpitations

– sweating

– feeling faint/dizziness

– hyperventilation

Vicious Cycle:

These physical symptoms of stress form part of a vicious cycle; this viscous cycle is caused by the various aspects of stress feeding off one another as I describe below:

1) Anxious thoughts lead to the production of stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol

2) These stress hormones produce physical symptoms in the body which exacerbate anxious thoughts

3) These further anxious thoughts then cause yet more stress hormones to flood the brain…and, thus, the vicious cycle continues

How Do You Break This Vicious Cycle?

In order to break this vicious cycle, a component of it needs to be broken so that the elements it is made up of can no longer feed off one another. Hypnotherapy can do this in different ways, for example:

– the excessive production of stress hormones flooding the brain can be halted using self hypnosis techniques such as calming imagery/visualisation.


– anxious thoughts can be reduced under hypnosis. This can be achieved in many ways, two of which I describe below:

1) The ‘Helium Voice’ technique:

Under hypnosis the individual is given the post hypnotic suggestion that when s/he has self-critical thoughts during internal dialogues (i.e. negative, introspective, mentally internal self-talk) the ‘voice’ of these thoughts will sound squeaky and high-pitched (as happens when a person inhales helium from a balloon), thus rendering them ridiculous and robbing them of any credibility (whilst this sounds silly, it can be remarkably effective).

2) The ‘Compassionate Friend’ Technique:

To simplify: under hypnosis, the individual is given the post hypnotic suggestion that when s/he has negative, anxiety producing thoughts s/he will be able to imagine what an ideal compassionate friend would say in response to them in order to comfort and reassure, so it becomes rather like having a tiny personal counsellor taking up residence in one’s head!

And, finally, many readers will already be aware that mindfulness meditation is often an extremely effective way of coping with stress and anxiety, though requires practice.


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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Controlling Anger And Other Emotions

controlling anger

We have seen that significant, protracted childhood trauma, particularly if it leads us to develop borderline personality disorder or complex post traumatic stress disorder, can result in us having extreme difficulty controlling our emotions, such as anger and anxiety, as adults : in psychological terms, we are at risk of developing emotional dysregulation.

Sometimes, intense emotions become so painful that, as a defense mechanism, we shut our these feelings down (we may do this deliberately by using alcohol and drugs, or it might happen automatically – in the latter case we are said to be dissociating).


Some people try to keep their emotions ‘buried’ (suppressed). There can be a number of reasons for this, including:

– growing up in a household in which any display of emotions and feelings was considered a sign of weakness or ‘not the done thing’

– being in an occupation in which displays of emotions are not encouraged e.g.police, military

– fear of losing respect

– fear of losing control


However, keeping feelings and emotions buried takes up large amounts of mental energy and means they tend to be kept simmering beneath the surface, building up pressure and ready to explode.

And, very often, the emotion of anger is the one that is nearest to the surface, and therefore the one that is most frequently experienced and expressed.

HOWEVER, anger very often conceals, and has its primary roots in, the fundamental emotions of FEAR and HURT.

So, in fact, very often, when we express anger, what we are really expressing is this fear and hurt; to put it concisely:



Acknowledging Our True, Authentic Feelings And Having The Courage To Express Them:

It is therefore necessary to become aware of the real feelings behind our anger, feelings that are likely to be intensely painful and that we have preferred not to acknowledge (or even not allowed ourselves to become consciously aware of) and to start the process of expressing them, understanding their origins, working through them and resolving them (ideally with a highly trained, professional therapist).

By getting in touch with our feelings beneath our anger, and working through them therapeutically, we can reduce or overcome outbursts of rage, self-destructive behavior and bodily complaints such as fatigue.

If we do not get in touch with feelings such as hurt and fear (completely normal emotions that everyone experiences to one degree or another), but instead keep them ‘locked out’ and ‘buried’ , we pay the very high price of not being able to get in touch with, experience or express positive emotions, such as happiness and joy, too. Our aim is to feel comfortable with all our emotions and to channel them constructively.

What We Can Do To Help Ourselves To Control Our Emotions :

In order to control our emotions we can apply certain skills, such as:

– learning to identify what we are feeling and linguistically label our emotions e.g. ‘anger’, ‘fear’ etc – when we verbally name our emotions and describe them in spoken (or, indeed, written) language we are more likely to be able to control them and are less likely to act them out.

– acknowledge and accept emotions nonjudgmentally (as taught through mindfulness).

– change our thinking. Our feelings are connected to our thinking processes – consider trying cognitive therapy which can help retrain our thinking style and which, in turn, can lead to much improved emotional experiences.


control anger

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)




How Parental Stress Affects The Child’s Biology

Children of stressed parents are, unsurprisingly, more likely to be stressed themselves; this is true for various reasons:

1) It is now being hypothesized by experts in the field that severe stress that mothers experience before they even conceive their baby can alter their eggs in such a way that their infant is passed genetic information that makes him/her more prone to the adverse effects of stress in later life (however, so far the evidence for this only comes from the study of rats – to what extent we can extrapolate from these rat studies is yet to be determined).

2) If a stressed mother is holding her baby or is being observed by it this stress is communicated and transmitted to the infant (infants are highly attuned to their mothers’ emotional states). In effect, the infant absorbs the mother’s stress and anxiety into its own body.

This results in measurable physiological changes taking place within the infant’s body including raised heart rate and an increase in the body’s production of the stress hormone known as cortisol.

The mother’s stress is communicated to the infant, even in the prelingual stage, via factors that include:

– the mother’s vocal tone

– the mother’s facial expressions

– the mother’s physical tension

3) Young children learn how to react to stress by observing their primary caregivers; if these primary caregivers handle stress poorly, then the child, too, is at risk of developing similar difficulties

4) If a child frequently experiences parental conflict, this, too, puts him/her at risk of developing anxiety problems and difficulties with handling stress.

Indeed, research has revealed that even when the child is asleep the sound of parental arguing/conflict is picked up by his/her unconscious and therefore has damaging effects.

5) Depressed / frequently angry mothers may not properly teach their children to ‘self-sooth’ and regulate their emotions effectively, leaving the child highly vulnerable to the development of anxiety-related conditions as s/he grows up


Children who grow up exposed to, and ‘infected’ by, parental anxiety/stress are not only at high risk of developing emotional/psychological problems but also of developing physical/biological problems; these include :

– headaches

– stomach aches

– fatigue

– metabolic syndrome

– over-eating (‘comfort eating’)

– obesity


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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Mental Health For Parents

mental health for parents

Many parents with mental health problems are concerned about the effects their condition may have upon their children and also about how to better cope with the stresses that being responsible for one’s children’s care inevitably entails (even for parents who are mentally well, of course!).

In the United Kingdom, it is estimated that approximately sixty percent of adults suffering from a serious and chronic mental health problem (such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia) have children. And many more people with less serious mental health issues also have children, of course. Then, on top of this, many individuals addicted to alcohol or drugs are responsible for bringing up children, as well.

If a parent has a mental health problem, s/he can find that it interferes with his/her ability to be an effective parent, especially if s/he also has to hold down a job and/or has a poor relationship with his/her partner or is a single parent.

We know from the extensive research that has been conducted in this area that children who grow up with a parent who is suffering from significant and enduring mental heath issues are more likely than other children (all else being equal) to have psychological, emotional and/or behavioral difficulties (this, in turn, can make parenting harder still, thus leading to a vicious cycle).

The reasons why children living with parents with mental health problems are more likely themselves to develop problems (as referred to above) may include:

– the genes they have inherited from their mentally ill parent

– the unstable/stressful / chaotic environment in which they are being brought up

– a combination of the above two factors (genes and environment always interact)

– growing up in poverty (parents with mental health problems are more likely to be living in poverty than are mentally healthy parents).


What Factors Help Children Of Mentally Ill Parents To Develop Resilience?

Different children will, of course, be affected by the mental health problems of their parents in different ways. Factors which can make these children less likely to be significantly damaged by their parent’s mental illness include the following:

– counselling and support involving the whole family / family therapy

– consistent parenting

– having another parent or primary care-giver who is not mentally ill and who spends significant time giving the child emotional/psychological support

– having supportive and loyal friends whom one can trust and confide in

– having supportive teachers

– having a supportive school counsellor

– having supportive and emotionally available relatives

– being part of a young carers group

– having an ‘out of home’ hobby/activity which provides a sense of safety and stability (eg a scout group / boarding school)




David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)



Reducing Hyperarousal Caused By Childhood Trauma


We have seen that the experience of severe childhood trauma can lead to severe symptoms hyperarousal in adult life due to damage incurred to the development of the brain’s limbic system. Below I provide some definitions of hyperarousal:

– a state of increased psychological and physiological tension marked by such effects as reduced pain tolerance, anxiety, exaggerated startle response, insomnia, fatigue and the accentuation of personality traits

Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medical, Nursing and Allied Health

Excessive responsiveness to sensory stimulation.

Medical Dictionary

– A state of muscular and emotional tension produced by hormones during the fight or flight reaction.

Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine


If we are in a hyperaroused state, the symptoms that it may induce in us include the following:

– an excessive proneness to outbursts of anger and rage, even in response to provocations which most would consider minor

– insomnia, especially difficulty falling asleep and frequent waking

– frequently feeling extremely on edge

– frequently feeling threatened as if in imminent danger

– impaired ability to concentrate

Although the state of hyperarousal, resulting in the fight or flight response, has evolved to help us survive when in REAL danger, it becomes dysfunctional when it is frequently, unnecessarily triggered, as can occur in those who have suffered significant childhood trauma.


For example, if we keep flying into rages due to small provocations (that don’t seem, to others, to warrant such a response) we may find it hard to maintain friendships and relationships.

It is also important to understand that hyperaroused states, such as rage and intense anxiety, may often be triggered in survivors of childhood trauma by unconscious causes.

For example, we may not realize that the reason we keep getting angry when interacting with authority figures is that they remind us, on an unconscious level, of an abusive parent (and also of the trauma we experienced as a result of that parent’s abuse). In other words, in such a situation, the brain is ‘tricked’ into believing that the anger we express towards the authority figure will protect us from the trauma our abusive parent caused us (or from similar trauma); the brain’s rule of thumb here appears to be something along the lines of, ‘once bitten, twice shy.’


1) We need to reassure ourselves that feelings of hyperarousal, such as increased heart rate and hyperventilation, can’t harm us and that we therefore don’t need to fear them (we won’t die from them or go ‘crazy’ as some in the grip of panic attacks – caused by extreme hyperarousal – fear).

2) We need to accept the feelings of hyperarousal as, paradoxically, trying hard to ‘fight’ them tends to increase their intensity

3) We need to allow our bodies to relax and dissipate muscular tension.

4) We need to allow ourselves to breathe slowly and gently rather than hyperventilate

5) Rather than try to ‘force’ unpleasant thoughts from our minds, we need to accept them and remind ourselves that they are only thoughts (which may, in any case, be wrong or inaccurate) and can’t harm us; in relation to this, one method is to treat our thoughts passing through our minds like leaves floating by on the surface of a stream – we can just observe them neutrally and non – judgmentally without getting caught up in them or emotionally engaging with them.

6) Reduce caffeine, nicotine and alcohol

7) Eat well, get sufficient sleep and relaxation, avoid stressful situations whenever possible, take regular exercise

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)



Hypnosis For Simple Phobias

hypnosis for simple phobias

Research shows that those who suffered significant trauma as children are at elevated risk of developing anxiety conditions as adults; simple phobias are one (amongst many) expression of such anxiety.

A simple phobia is an irrational fear of a single object, activity or situation (unlike complex phobias that may have multiple triggers, such as social phobia). The individual who has the phobia is fully aware that his/her phobia is irrational, but, despite this awareness, at the point of starting therapy has been unable to overcome it.


Whilst further research needs to be conducted on the effectiveness of hypnotherapy as a treatment for individuals suffering from simple phobias, several studies have shown it to be helpful (e.g. McGuinness, 1984; Rustvold, 1994).

How Is Hypnotherapy Used To Treat Simple Phobias?

One of the most effective ways of treating a simple phobia with hypnosis is to employ the method of desensitization and I explain the process below, using the example of arachnophobia (a phobia of spiders).

1) A deep sense of relaxation and safety is hypnotically induced in the patient.

2) The patient is instructed to visualize a small spider from a distance

3) The patient is instructed to visualize the same spider but from a closer distance

4) The patient is instructed to visualize an average sized spider from a distance


The final stage might consist of the hypnotherapist instructing the patient to visualize picking a large spider up with a people piece of tissue paper and dropping it out of the window.

The idea is that at each subsequent stage the patient is gradually exposed, in imagination only, to increasingly, potentially anxiety-provoking ‘encounters’ with the spider. It is unnecessary for the patient to come into contact with a real spider.

Throughout the process, the client receives suggestions that s/he will feel relaxed, safe and in control.

When successful, this process has the effect of gradually and systematically ‘desensitizing’ the patient to spiders (ie causing the patient to stop responding fearfully to them in a way that is TRANSFERABLE TO REAL SITUATIONS).

Phobias, Logic And Reasoning:

Many individuals who suffer from phobias become frustrated that they are unable to overcome their phobia through logical and reasoned thinking given that they know their fear to be irrational; repeatedly telling themselves the object of their fears presents no threat or danger to them tends not to work which means cognitive based therapies may be unsuccessful.

When individuals try to cure their phobia by logic and reason they are using the brain’s left hemisphere.

However, the benefit of using hypnosis to treat phobias is that it taps into the brain’s right hemisphere and this side of the brain is involved in emotional processing, feelings, instincts and visualization, all of which hypnosis harnesses to help the individual overcome his/her phobia.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).