How Long Does It Take To Heal From Childhood Trauma?

CEO, Co-founder and Partner
Cheryl has been working in the private Mental Health and Addiction treatment world for 30 years, as a clinician, clinical director, program founder, program administrator, and facility decorator!

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How Long Does It Take To Heal From Childhood Trauma?

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Childhood trauma refers to the psychological and emotional response that children undergo following events that are highly stressful, frightening, or disturbing. Such experiences can disrupt a child’s sense of security, making them feel helpless and vulnerable. Trauma can stem from singular, acute events or can develop through ongoing stressors over time.

The types of childhood trauma are diverse, each affecting children in unique ways, and can be broadly classified into the following categories:

Types of Childhood Trauma

  • Physical Abuse: This involves bodily harm inflicted upon a child, including hitting, burning, or any other physical punishment that goes beyond mere discipline. For example, a child repeatedly beaten by a caregiver would experience this form of trauma.
  • Sexual Abuse: Involving any sexual act forced upon a child, this trauma includes activities ranging from inappropriate touching to sexual assault. An example is a child molested by a relative or family friend, which can profoundly impact their mental health and development.
  • Emotional Abuse: This form of abuse is sometimes harder to identify as it involves behaviors that harm a child’s self-esteem and emotional well-being. Examples include verbal abuse, constant criticism, threats, rejection, or withholding of love and support. A child regularly belittled or verbally threatened by parents or guardians would be a victim of emotional abuse.
  • Neglect: Failing to provide for a child’s basic needs, including food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, constitutes neglect. An example would be a child consistently left alone at home without adequate food or a child whose medical conditions are ignored by their caregivers.
  • Witnessing Violence: Children who witness violence, whether in the home or community, experience trauma. Witnessing domestic violence, shootings, or other violent acts can leave lasting emotional scars.
  • Medical Trauma: Serious illness or painful medical procedures can also be traumatic for children. For instance, a child undergoing frequent, painful treatments for a chronic illness might experience this type of trauma.
  • Loss and Grief: The death or loss of a loved one, including pets, can deeply affect a child. The loss of a parent or sibling can be particularly destabilizing, influencing their emotional and psychological growth.

Effects Vary Widely

Understanding the impact of these traumatic events is crucial because the effects can vary widely. Some children may develop resilience and overcome their experiences relatively unscathed. Others may suffer long-term consequences that can manifest as mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A Complex Process

The healing process from childhood trauma is complex and nonlinear, influenced by various factors including the nature of the trauma, the child’s environment, and the support systems available. 

Therapy Is Essential

Therapy and counseling are often essential for healing, providing a safe space for children to process their experiences and emotions. Therapeutic approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), play therapy, and family therapy have been effective in helping children recover and rebuild a sense of normalcy and security.

Understanding these types of childhood traumas and their profound effects on psychological and emotional development is the first step towards addressing and healing these deep-seated wounds.

Risk Factors That Influence Childhood Trauma

Risk factors that influence childhood trauma can be categorized into environmental, familial, and individual factors. These risk factors don’t necessarily cause trauma but can increase a child’s vulnerability to traumatic experiences. Here are some of the main risk factors:

  • Family Dysfunction: This includes a wide range of issues within the family structure, such as domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, and parental separation or divorce. Such environments can create or exacerbate the conditions for traumatic experiences, as they often lead to emotional neglect, instability, and violence.
  • Socioeconomic Status: Children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are at a higher risk of experiencing trauma. Poverty can lead to and exacerbate factors such as exposure to violent neighborhoods, inadequate housing, food insecurity, limited access to healthcare, and educational disparities—all of which can contribute to traumatic experiences.
  • Parental Factors: Parents’ physical and mental health significantly impact their children. Parents struggling with mental health issues, addiction, or chronic illness may be unable to provide adequate care and emotional support, increasing the likelihood of neglect and abuse.
  • Community and Environmental Violence: Living in an area with high rates of crime and violence exposes children to traumatic situations, such as witnessing or being a victim of violence. This can also include exposure to community disasters like shootings, bombings, or natural disasters.
  • Bullying: Peer interactions can also be a source of trauma. Bullying, whether physical, verbal, or cyber, can deeply affect a child’s sense of safety and self-worth, leading to long-lasting emotional scars.
  • Early Childhood Disruption: Trauma can also stem from disruptions in early childhood care, such as frequent changes in caregivers, foster care placement, or adoption. Such disruptions can affect attachment styles and emotional development, predisposing children to feelings of insecurity and abandonment.
  • Preexisting Disabilities or Health Issues: Children with physical, developmental, or cognitive disabilities are at increased risk for experiencing trauma. They might face bullying, social isolation, or discriminatory treatment, and might not receive the protective oversight needed to safeguard their well-being.

Understanding these risk factors is crucial for prevention and intervention efforts. By identifying and mitigating these risks, communities, and caregivers can better support at-risk children, reducing the likelihood of trauma and its long-lasting effects.

Common Reactions to Childhood Trauma

Children who experience trauma react in various ways, depending on their age, personality, the nature of the trauma, and their support systems. Here are some common reactions to childhood trauma:

Emotional Reactions

  • Fear and Anxiety: A child may become excessively fearful, both of the known and the unknown. This can manifest as a constant worry about safety for themselves or for their loved ones.
  • Sadness and Depression: Persistent sadness, withdrawal from social interactions, and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities are common. Children may also exhibit signs of hopelessness or extreme fatigue.
  • Anger and Irritability: Trauma can cause children to feel frustrated and angry. This might be directed towards themselves, peers, family members, or even inanimate objects.

Behavioral Reactions

  • Regression: Younger children might revert to earlier developmental stages after experiencing trauma. This can include bedwetting, thumb-sucking, or baby talk.
  • Withdrawal or Isolation: Children might pull away from friends or family and prefer to be alone. They might stop participating in group activities they once enjoyed.
  • Aggressive Behavior: Traumatized children might become unexpectedly aggressive, which can be a defense mechanism to regain control or express pent-up emotions.

Cognitive Reactions

  • Difficulty Concentrating: Trauma can disrupt a child’s ability to focus on schoolwork or daily tasks, leading to a decline in academic performance and difficulty completing tasks.
  • Nightmares and Sleep Problems: Traumatic experiences often lead to sleep disturbances, including difficulty falling or staying asleep, and nightmares that replay the traumatic event.
  • Intrusive Thoughts: Children may experience recurring thoughts of the traumatic event that interrupt their daily activities and mental focus.

Physical Reactions

  • Somatic Complaints: Children might report more physical symptoms without a clear medical cause, such as headaches, stomachaches, or general aches and pains.
  • Changes in Appetite: There might be noticeable changes in eating habits, which can include overeating or loss of appetite.
  • Hyperarousal: This can manifest as being easily startled, a heightened reaction to noises, or a constant feeling of being on edge.

Social Reactions

  • Changes in Relationships: Trauma can affect how children interact with others. They might have difficulty trusting others or might overly cling to caregivers or trusted adults.
  • Avoidance of Reminders: Children might avoid places, activities, or people that remind them of the trauma, which can significantly restrict their social interactions and activities.

Understanding these reactions helps caregivers, educators, and mental health professionals provide appropriate support and interventions. Providing a safe environment, where the child feels seen, heard, and supported, is essential for helping them process and recover from traumatic experiences.

How to Identify Childhood Trauma?

Identifying childhood trauma can be challenging because children often lack the ability to articulate their experiences and emotions effectively. However, recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma in children is crucial for early intervention, which can significantly improve recovery outcomes. Here are several strategies and indicators that can help in identifying trauma in children:

1. Behavioral Changes

One of the most apparent signs of trauma in children is a noticeable change in their behavior. Children who have experienced trauma might exhibit increased aggression, irritability, or may become unusually passive. They might also show regressive behaviors, such as thumb-sucking or bed-wetting, especially in younger children. These changes often occur suddenly and can seem out of character for the child.

2. Emotional Responses

Traumatized children might display heightened emotional reactions. This can include excessive crying, extreme mood swings, or unexpected fears. Some children might become particularly clingy and fearful of separation from their parents or caregivers, indicative of anxiety and insecurity triggered by traumatic experiences.

3. Physical Symptoms

Frequently, trauma manifests through physical symptoms in the absence of a medical cause. These can include headaches, stomachaches, and general fatigue. A child complaining persistently about feeling unwell could be experiencing stress related to trauma.

4. Changes in Academic Performance

A sudden drop in academic performance or a decrease in school attendance can be a red flag for underlying issues, including trauma. Traumatized children might have difficulty concentrating, participating in school activities, or interacting with peers, which can all affect their academic success.

5. Withdrawal from Social Activities

Children suffering from trauma might withdraw from friends and family and lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. This withdrawal is often a protective measure, helping them avoid situations that might trigger memories of the traumatic event.

6. Sleep Disturbances

Troubles with sleep, such as nightmares, difficulty falling asleep, or frequent waking during the night, are common among children who have experienced trauma. These disturbances can reflect the child’s struggles to process the traumatic event.

7. Sensitivity to Triggers

Traumatized children may react strongly to sensory triggers that remind them of the trauma. This could include loud noises, particular smells, or specific visual cues that evoke memories of the traumatic event. Observing a child’s reactions to such triggers can provide clues about underlying trauma.

8. Listening to Verbal Cues

Children may sometimes express aspects of the trauma through play or stories. They might draw scenes or tell stories that hint at violence, fear, or sadness. Listening attentively to these expressions and noticing recurring themes or characters can be insightful.

9. Consulting Professionals

If trauma is suspected, it is vital to consult professionals trained in diagnosing and treating childhood trauma, such as child psychologists or psychiatrists. These experts can conduct more structured assessments and observations to confirm if trauma exists and recommend appropriate interventions.

Identifying childhood trauma requires vigilance and sensitivity to changes in a child’s behavior, emotional state, and physical health. Early detection and intervention are key to helping children heal and lead healthy, productive lives. Engaging with professionals

Long-term Effects of Unresolved Childhood Trauma on Adults

Unresolved childhood trauma can have far-reaching effects that persist into adulthood, influencing an individual’s emotional health, relationships, and overall well-being. 

Difficulty With Relationships 

  • Adults who experienced trauma as children often face difficulties in forming and maintaining healthy relationships. They may struggle with trust issues, fear of abandonment, or an inability to form close, secure attachments.


  • These adults might exhibit symptoms akin to those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as persistent sadness, anxiety, and mood swings. They may also experience chronic feelings of emptiness or numbness, often leading to depression. 
  • The coping mechanisms adopted might not always be healthy; some individuals turn to substance abuse or other self-destructive behaviors as a way to manage their unresolved pain.

In the Workplace

  • Unresolved trauma can manifest as difficulties in handling stress or criticism, leading to decreased productivity and conflicts with colleagues. 
  • The stress of managing these emotional and psychological burdens can also contribute to physical health problems, such as chronic pain, headaches, and gastrointestinal issues.

Recognizing and addressing these issues through professional therapy, support groups, or counseling can be crucial. Therapeutic interventions like cognitive-behavioral therapy can help individuals understand and process their traumas, fostering healing and improving quality of life.

Stages of Healing From Childhood Trauma

Healing from childhood trauma is a gradual process that can vary widely depending on the individual and the nature of the trauma experienced. It generally involves several stages, each crucial for the person’s recovery. 

Understanding these stages can help survivors and their caregivers navigate the healing journey more effectively. Here’s an overview of the common stages of healing from childhood trauma:

1. Safety and Stabilization

The first stage focuses on establishing safety, both physically and emotionally. For those affected by trauma, the world can feel like an unpredictable and dangerous place. Establishing safety involves creating a stable environment where the individual feels secure. 

This might involve removing immediate threats, ensuring a stable living situation, and creating a consistent routine. 

Emotionally, this stage is about learning to regulate distressing emotions and developing coping strategies to manage symptoms like anxiety, hypervigilance, and flashbacks.

2. Remembrance and Mourning

This stage involves processing the trauma, which can be the most challenging part of healing. It entails confronting and making sense of the traumatic memories. With the help of a therapist, the individual learns to recount the traumatic events and express the feelings associated with those memories. 

This process often involves mourning the losses associated with the trauma, such as the loss of a carefree childhood, lost opportunities, or broken relationships. 

It’s important during this stage for the individual to have a supportive and understanding environment, as revisiting traumatic memories can be retraumatizing.

3. Reconnection and Integration

Once a person has processed the trauma, the next step involves beginning to rebuild their life. This stage is characterized by the re-establishment of relationships and the development of a new sense of self. Trauma can significantly alter a person’s self-perception and how they relate to others. 

The focus here is on creating new meaningful connections and repairing old ones. 

It also involves integrating the traumatic experiences into one’s life story without letting them define the individual’s entire existence. This might involve finding new meaning in life or a renewed sense of purpose.

4. Consolidation and Future Orientation

The final stage of healing from childhood trauma involves consolidating the gains made during therapy and focusing on the future. At this point, the individual starts to employ the skills and strategies they have learned to live a more fulfilled and balanced life. 

This stage is about moving forward with new coping strategies and a greater sense of resilience. The trauma becomes a part of the person’s past that informs but does not control their future decisions and relationships.

Ongoing Support

Throughout all stages, ongoing support from therapists, family, friends, and support groups is crucial. Healing from trauma is not a linear process; individuals may cycle through these stages several times, and setbacks are a normal part of the journey. 

Continuous emotional support and professional guidance can help manage these fluctuations and promote sustained recovery.

Each stage builds upon the last, and progress can fluctuate as individuals may revisit earlier stages as needed. The journey is deeply personal, and healing can take months or even years. 

The ultimate goal is not just to survive the trauma but to thrive and find a meaningful and satisfying life post-trauma.

How Long Does Trauma Therapy Take?

The duration of trauma therapy can vary significantly from one person to another, depending on various factors. These include:

  • The nature and severity of the trauma
  • The individual’s emotional and psychological resilience
  • The presence of a supportive environment
  • The specific type of therapeutic approach being used 

Here are some key points to consider when thinking about the length of trauma therapy:

Nature and Severity of the Trauma

Individuals who have experienced long-term, complex trauma, such as repeated abuse, may require a longer period of therapy compared to those who are dealing with a single traumatic event.

Individual Differences

Each person’s unique psychological makeup and life circumstances also play a critical role in determining the length of therapy needed. Factors like personal resilience, previous mental health issues, and the presence of a supportive social network can influence the pace of recovery.

Type of Therapy

Different therapeutic approaches can also impact the duration of therapy. For instance, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) might be structured and relatively short-term, often ranging from a few months to about a year. On the other hand, psychodynamic therapy might take longer, as it often delves deeper into emotional and interpersonal issues, which can take more time to explore and resolve.

Goals of Therapy

The specific goals set by the individual and their therapist will also affect the duration of the therapy. Some people might seek therapy to manage specific symptoms such as anxiety or sleep disturbances, while others might aim to understand deeper psychological patterns and past experiences, which typically require a longer commitment.

Frequency of Sessions

The frequency of therapy sessions can also vary. Some individuals might attend therapy once a week, while others could have sessions more or less frequently based on their needs, the severity of symptoms, and their therapist’s recommendations.

In general, trauma therapy is not a quick fix and often requires a commitment to a process that can take months or even years. 

It’s important for individuals undergoing therapy to have realistic expectations and to be patient with themselves throughout the healing process. 

It’s also crucial for them to work closely with their therapist to periodically evaluate their progress and adjust the therapy plan as needed to best support their healing journey.

Does Childhood Trauma Ever Go Away?

Childhood trauma does not simply “go away” on its own; its effects can linger into adulthood if not addressed. However, with effective intervention and support, individuals can learn to manage its impact and lead fulfilling lives. The key to dealing with childhood trauma lies in appropriate therapeutic interventions, strong social support, and personal resilience-building.

Therapeutic Intervention

Professional therapy plays a crucial role in helping individuals understand and process their trauma. Therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) are designed to help individuals confront and reframe their traumatic experiences. 

Therapy provides tools and strategies to cope with the emotional and psychological challenges posed by trauma, enabling individuals to gradually diminish its influence over their daily lives and emotional well-being.

Support Systems

A supportive network of family and friends can significantly enhance the healing process. Supportive relationships provide emotional comfort, which can help mitigate feelings of isolation and loneliness that often accompany trauma. They also offer practical support and encouragement to seek and continue treatment.

Personal Development

Building personal resilience is another critical factor. This can include developing coping strategies, engaging in activities that boost self-esteem, and fostering a sense of purpose and future orientation. Resilience does not negate the trauma but allows individuals to live more fully despite it.

Long-term Management

Even with therapy and support, the effects of childhood trauma may not completely disappear. Some individuals might experience triggers or setbacks, especially during periods of stress or other significant life changes. Ongoing self-care, continuous therapeutic practices, and sometimes long-term counseling are important for maintaining mental health.

Outcome Variability

It’s important to note that the outcome of healing from childhood trauma varies from person to person. Some may find that they can move past their trauma relatively quickly, while others might deal with its effects throughout their lives. 

The extent to which trauma can be “resolved” depends on many factors, including the nature of the trauma, the timely availability of therapy, and individual factors such as genetic predisposition and the presence of a supportive environment.

While childhood trauma may not completely go away, it does not have to define a person’s life forever. With effective treatment and support, individuals can manage its effects successfully and lead healthy, productive lives. The goal is not to erase the past but to empower the individual to manage their history in a way that allows them to move forward.

Corner Canyon Welcomes You 

If you or a loved one are looking for a compassionate space to work on mental health issues or enhance your recovery from mental health issues or addictions, reach out to our Admissions team now at Corner Canyon Health Centers.

CEO, Co-founder and Partner
Cheryl has been working in the private Mental Health and Addiction treatment world for 30 years, as a clinician, clinical director, program founder, program administrator, and facility decorator!

Liz Lund, MPA

Liz is originally from lush green Washington State. She is a life enthusiast and a huge fan of people. Liz has always loved learning why people are the way they are. She moved to UT in 2013 and completed her bachelors degree in Psychology in 2016. After college Liz worked at a residential treatment center and found that she was not only passionate about people, but also administration. Liz is recently finished her MPA in April 2022. Liz loves serving people and is excited and looking forward to learning about; and from our clients here at Corner Canyon.
When Liz is not busy working she love being outdoors, eating ice cream, taking naps, and spending time with her precious baby girl and sweet husband.