CPDC recognizes that the field of mental health is in the midst of a major paradigm shift that centers around the recognition of developmental trauma as a causative factor in life-long mental health. CPDC’s trauma-informed professional seminars for mental health practitioners are designed to educate mental health practitioners about this paradigm shift and to provide live seminars where they can participate in it.
Two Opposing Trends in the Mental Health Profession
The first trend is working towards standardization, and is more commonly associated with large mental health facilities that use a medical model of treatment. This group tends to dehumanize the therapeutic process, to use the DSM and diagnoses, to focus on symptoms, and to use quick-fix tools & techniques and medication, rather than examining the role of unresolved trauma and adverse childhood experiences in psychopathology. The message from this first group sounds something like this:
This is the disease, this is its name, and this is what causes it, and this is the drug that treats it. This is how accurate diagnosis is done. These are the tests, these are the possible results, and here’s what they mean.
The second group, which is moving away from the medical model’s emphasis on standardization, diagnosis and symptoms, is increasingly focused on the role of unresolved trauma and adverse childhood experiences in treating mental health issues. Within this group, there are two sub-groups.
The first subgroup, led primarily by Bessel van der Kolk, is working to humanize the medical model. It is examining the role of adverse childhood experiences and developmental trauma as the cause of psychopathology. van der Kolk has been working for almost 20 years without success to include a new early-trauma diagnostic category in new versions of the DSM.
The second sub-group in the second trend is moving away from the medical model altogether, even discarding diagnosis and the DSM. Bruce Perry and Dan Siegel openly discuss their non-diagnostic, non-medical mental health approach in their workshops. They, along with Allen Schore and others who use an attachment model for both identify and treating developmental trauma, focus primarily on using a relational model of treatment. This subgroup’s message sounds more like this:
Presence, attunement and resonance is the way to clinically create the essential condition of trust. This allows clients to experience healing love without fear, as they come to the neuroceptive evaluation of safety. It also helps them engage socially so that they can create trust within their subjective experience.
This group has already legitimized an attachment model of trauma in the theory and practice of mental health. It has bypassed much of the controversy generated by more traditional mental health practitioners, and moved the focus of their research into validating a relational model of mental health based on the principles of interpersonal neurobiology. The two individuals who seem to be at the cutting edge of this group are Dan Siegel and Allen Schore, who oversee a series of books based on Interpersonal Biology at W. W. Norton.
Developmental Trauma: A Game Changer in the Mental Health Profession
So developmental trauma has become a political issue in the mental health profession. It was at the center of the Herculean effort made by van der Kolk and a large group of mental health researchers to legitimize it by adding Developmental Trauma Disorder (DTD) to the 2014 DSM-V. In spite of the group’s massive effort, the DSM committee rejected their request.
During the years that the DSM committees reviewed modifications to the new Manual, those involved gradually solidified into two groups: those for adding DTD, those against adding DTD. A third (and largest) group remains ignorant and uneducated about developmental trauma and DTD.
The reason that DTD became so politically heated is that legitimatizing developmental trauma in the DSM-V would cause a radical change in the medical model of mental health–one that’s considered the equivalent to adding the diagnosis of PTSD to the DSM-III in 1980.
From the medical model perspective, legitimatizing DTD would also:
- Admit to the primacy of the Nurture Principle, and mothering/male mothering,
- Cause many diagnoses to be re-categorized as developmental trauma,
- Force a reorganizing of the philosophy, theory and practice of mental health,
- Provoke MH researchers to rearrange their labs, their concepts, their funding and their rating scales,
- Change practitioners treatment protocols.
You can read a detailed chronology of the DTD Committee’s campaign to legitimize developmental trauma in the March/April 2010 issue of Psychotherapy Networker
A Dilemma for Mental Health Professionals
Whenever we meet with colleagues, we discuss these two opposing trends in the mental health field. We think it’s important for them to not only understand the big picture in the field, but also to know where they stand in it. We ask them about their values, particularly their personal and professional beliefs about what actually heals clients’ mental health issues. We emphasize the need for them to do their own healing work so that they can optimize the “relational field” that they bring to their practice.
CPDC specifically examines these larger political and practical issues in its professional seminars for mental health practitioners. We invite you to participate in our professional development programs and to join the dialogue!
Continuing Education Credit:
The Colorado Professional Development Center has been approved by NBCC as an Approved Continuing Education Provider, ACEP No. 6699. Programs that do not qualify for NBCC credit are clearly identified.
The Colorado Professional Development Center is solely responsible for all aspects of the programs.