Chronic and Developmental Trauma

By Dr. Gisela Roth 

In our last edition we looked at the effects of single event trauma. What happens when trauma is ongoing, such as in extended war situation, ongoing exposure to civil strife, persecution for being a Christian, kidnapping, torture and the like?

Even when there are no overt signs of a posttraumatic stress disorder, such as flash backs or numbing, the ongoing stress of needing to be alert constantly, quick adjustments to the situation, prolonged helplessness etc do take their toll. Tiredness, irritability, proneness to diseases, sleep disturbances, nightmares, and clinginess in children or regression (loss of appropriate behavior for the age) can follow. In severe cases addictions may be sought as an ineffective means of self-treatment and/or the whole personality of a person may change as has been seen in Vietnam Veterans, Holocaust Survivors and others. We as Christians are called not to condemn but to draw alongside and offer help to our affected brothers and sisters, such as in Eastern Congo, Southern Sudan, Islamic countries etc.

When ongoing trauma affects a child, their forming personality is influenced by it. The development may be arrested and emotionally the child may stay at a lower developmental stage. The ability to learn new skills may be severely hampered since learning needs a safe enough atmosphere. Children affected by abuse, neglect, deprivation, lack of stable care-givers etc will often show patchy development. Good achievements in one area may stand next to troublesome behavior, impulsivity, emotional insecurity and poor social skills. The sense of basic trust and safety may never develop or be destroyed by developmental trauma. These children may have a deep seated sense of being unsafe, unprotected, unwanted. Since children tend to see themselves as the center of their universe, they develop inner models of being bad, unworthy, faulty or the like to explain why they are hurting so badly or were unwanted. This often affects adopted children.

Developmental trauma is a diagnosis requiring comprehensive long-term interventions. The staff at Tumaini Counselling Centre offers assessment for chronic and developmental trauma and help in finding the right treatment options. Reach us by phone at +254-728-606911 or +254-733-687050 (note: neither receives SMS) or by e-mail at