Long Term Impact of Childhood Trauma
Trauma poses lifelong effects for individuals exposed as children.The negative effects can extend for years post trauma exposure specifically in terms of risk for mood and anxiety disorders. Studies of adult psychiatric patients have long told us of the psychobiologic effects of exposure to long term adversity. Studies of PTSD further support the evidence of brain changes created by trauma. In a recent study, (Pole N. et al, Associations between Childhood Trauma and Emotion-Modulated Psychophysiological Responses to Startling Sounds: A Study of Police Cadets, Journal of Abnormal Psychology 2007 May; 116: 352-61) individuals without current psychopathology who had childhood trauma demonstrated greater reactivity and self-reported psychological effects to differing levels of potential threat via a finger shock. The childhood trauma group had fewer positive emotions, more negative emotions, greater eyeblink response and greater skin conductance than the group without trauma histories.
What becomes important for clinicians is to consider the importance of a childhood history of trauma in the identification of Axis I disorders in individuals without prior psychiatric histories.If we understand that trauma can produce changes in the brain, we can apply that understanding to the responses of adults exposed to stress and anxiety. These individuals may have a greater likelihood of developing psychiatric problems later in life due to a more sensitized response mode.