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Study Suggests Psychedelics May Help With Healing Childhood Trauma

Study Suggests Psychedelics May Help With Healing Childhood Trauma

Studies continue to show how psychedelics positively impact mental health issues. From anxiety and depression to PTSD, addiction, and even eating disorders. Now, an emerging study seems to have found a connection between these incredible hallucinogenic compounds and healing childhood trauma.

RELATED: University Of Ottawa To Offer Psychedelic Studies Master’s Program Beginning In Fall 2022

What Is Childhood Trauma?

Defined as a threatening and frightening event that can severely affect and impact a child’s life, childhood trauma can come in a plethora of different types. From bullying and community violence, natural disasters and refugee trauma to medical conditions and physical or sexual abuse, there’s plenty a child can go through.

According to a study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than two-thirds of children report at least one traumatic event by the age of 16. And this number seems to only be increasing each year.

A traumatic event can potentially have massive short- and long-term negative consequences for a child. The way they react to these effects and how they learn to deal with them differs from one child to another, and furthermore, impacts the future adult they’ll become.

SAMHSA reports how “trauma is a risk factor for nearly all behavioral health and substance use disorders.” And studies show how those with childhood trauma experience adverse outcomes in adulthood including mental illness, addiction, and a variety of health problems.

Impactful and efficient treatments are important. So, too, is having a good support system — which is critical in getting a child the help they need.

RELATED: Psychedelics For Eating Disorders: An Interview With Psychiatrist And Researcher Dr. Reid Robison

Treatments For Healing Childhood Trauma

Current treatments for those suffering from some kind of childhood trauma include a mix of clinical treatments, mental health interventions, as well as other trauma-informed service approaches which are constantly improving and changing with emerging research.

Some of the most common ways for healing childhood trauma include the following.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

This type of treatment usually comes while treating PTSD, another trauma-based mental health disorder. With children, it includes writing down the trauma memory rather than talking about it. The reasoning behind it is that writing could potentially provide some distance from the trauma itself, making the procedure more tolerable. Its most common uses are for physical and sexual abuse.

Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

This treatment has the person create a book of the trauma memory, whether written or illustrated, in which each page of the book represents one significant part of the event. This makes it easier to break down into parts, understand the link between them, and digest each area with more success.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing)

A more invasive treatment, this involves having a person concentrate on the worst part of the memory while moving their eyes to follow a therapist’s moving fingers. Research shows how EDMR helps address unprocessed memories as a step for healing childhood trauma.

Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET)

This way of healing childhood trauma typically involves creating a graphic timeline of the person’s life. Along the way, a person marks all of the best and worst events from memory. It seems to be the most effective in treating people with multiple traumatic events.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE)

A very gruesome treatment that has the person tell the story of the trauma memory in as much detail as possible, along with all of their thoughts and emotions. They then repeat it time and time again. Once the avoidance of the memory is prevented, the person has a chance to learn how to desensitize from it.

Play And Art Therapy

Using games and creative expression, this type of healing childhood trauma taps into the less invasive and confronting techniques. It helps those who suffered trauma to isolate those moments from their current lives. It’s usually used with children.

RELATED: I Read Every Neuroscience Study On Psychedelics Published Since 2017. Here’s What I Learned

Using Psychedelics As A Treatment For Healing Childhood Trauma

The use of psychedelics has shown to help those suffering from PTSD. So it’s no surprise researchers have interest in seeing how they may positively impact healing childhood trauma.

An article in Chronic Stress reported on the use of psychedelics in treatment as being associated with lower shame and complex trauma symptoms in adults with histories of child maltreatment.

In an online survey, 166 participants completed a series of detailed questions analyzing several factors. These included the following.

  • Measures of maltreatment exposure and severity
  • The history of intentional therapeutic psychedelic use
  • Post-traumatic stress symptoms
  • Internalized shame
  • Facial emotion recognition

Of the participants, around one-third of them had tried using psychedelics (psilocybin, LSD, MDMA) in a therapeutic context in order to heal childhood trauma.

This same third reported significantly lower levels of complex trauma symptoms and feelings of internalized shame, guilt, or suicidal thoughts. This shines a new light on the use of psychedelics and their potential as an alternative treatment.

What Makes Psychedelics So Effective?

One of the effects of psychedelics is ego death — the experience of losing the sense of “self”. In other words, a person loses the subjective personal identity as a temporary experience.

The majority of the participants reported feeling happier and better about themselves. They were capable of learning new steps and measures to explore unique ways to move on from past trauma.

It’s almost as if the psychedelics show them hope. A hope for changing their future. A hope for turning life into a more positive one — and not one impacted by uncontrollable events from childhood.

While the SAMHSA study is promising in the use of psychedelics for healing childhood trauma, it’s just a first step. Further research with a larger number of participants is necessary in order to confirm these findings. This could potentially move towards clinical trials. If that happens, this alternative treatment will be available to people who desperately need it.

Psychedelics are making a huge shift in the overall treatment of mental health issues. Now, childhood trauma is becoming another area where their use may be helpful. With so many studies underway, there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing a number of them in the near future.

Karla Tafra

View all posts by Karla Tafra

Karla is a freelance writer, yoga teacher and nutritionist who's been writing about nutrition, fitness, yoga, mindfulness, and overall health and wellness topics for over seven years. She's written for numerous publications such as Healthline, Livesavvy,, Well + Good, and many others, sharing her love of storytelling and educating. She loves talking about superfoods and another amazing plant powers that people can benefit from if they learn how to use it properly. Her passion lies in helping others not only eat healthier meals but implement good eating habits, find a great relationship with food & achieve a balanced lifestyle. She believes that the only diet and lifestyle that's worth creating is the one you can stick to, so she aims to find what that means for each and every individual. Teaching WHY we eat, and not only WHAT we eat, is the premise of her approach.

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