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  • Writer's pictureKalen Zeiger, MS, tLMFT, CCTP, CFTP

What is Developmental Trauma?

Developmental Trauma Disorder is a proposed mental health condition that you won't, as of this article, find in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Despite this, you may have already heard the term from a trauma-informed therapist, like me, or another helping professional.

Developmental Trauma is a label for a condition many professionals, including myself, believe there is evidence supporting for some people developing from chronic or severe trauma exposure during developmentally formative years. This trauma exposure could include experiences such as childhood abuse or neglect, witnessing violence, and home life or environmental instability. Triggers for Developmental Trauma differ from more normative stressors in that they are more chronic, resulting in long-lasting effects on brain and emotional development which translate into poorer mental and emotional well-being and life outcomes.

A "Consensus Proposed Criteria for Developmental Trauma Disorder" has previously been put forward by a National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) related task force of the potential criteria for diagnosing Developmental Trauma. These proposed criteria would assess whether an individual was exposed to chronic or severe trauma during childhood or early adolescence and if that had lasting negative results. This would be done by assessing for:

  • Exposure

  • Affective and Physiological Dysregulation

  • Attentional and Behavioral Dysregulation

  • Self and Relational Dysregulation

  • Posttraumatic Spectrum Symptoms

  • Duration of disturbance of at least six months

  • Functional Impairment

If you think you or someone you care about may have Developmental Trauma, it is important to remember that mental health is complex. Processing and healing from trauma is possible and often involves seeking therapy, a robust support system, and giving yourself time for things to get better.


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