How Psychological Injuries Cause Physical Illness—And How Therapy Can Heal It

Eric Kuelker, PhD, RPsych
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Your brain really wants to keep you alive. It is a major preoccupation, literally of life and death importance. And with good reason — the people in the past who did not detect danger got gobbled up by the wolves or bears. You are alive because your ancestors’ brains noticed the predators, and turbocharged their muscles to get away faster than their neighbors. The system is quick and complex, and it kept them going, eventually resulting in you being born.

Our skill at reacting to dangers that we can see applies to more than snakes or tigers. It is also how we have set up our healthcare system. We put enormous effort into it, with the US spending 3.5 trillion dollars a year on healthcare. We have MRI machines of staggering complexity, and hospitals filled with smart and highly trained people.

What Are the Invisible Killers?

But there is a problem. All that technology and expertise is focused on what we can see. A physical injury is obvious, we can look at the broken bone or the blood. Bacterial infections can be spotted pretty fast and we can see the evil little microbes under a microscope. Our healthcare system addresses these very well. They also happen to have been the biggest cause of early death in the 19th century. 150 years ago, what usually killed people was smashed limbs, or disease. Thankfully, we have excellent interventions to deal with them.

That was then. This is the 21st century, and things have changed dramatically. Of the ten leading causes of early death, physical injuries and infections are 5th and 8th on the list. They actually are the least of our worries. Something else, something we cannot see, yet is very powerful, is pushing us to an early grave.

We need to know what that is. If we zero in on what shortens our lifespans, then we can address it. We can take action to live long, robust lives. We can employ bright, passionate people to strengthen our bodies, and lengthen our years.

But we are not. Not in the slightest. Although the research papers have been pouring out by the thousands during the 21st century on the single biggest cause of early death, all that knowledge is pretty much ignored. Passed by. The doctors don’t know about it, you don’t know about it, the hospitals don’t measure it, the insurance companies won’t pay to treat it — nothing. It melts a few brain cells when you think about it. The single largest cause of early death is ignored by our expensive and sophisticated healthcare system.

Which is why you are lucky to be reading this article. You will learn how these invisible injuries occur, and the many ways they shorten a person’s lifespan. And once you understand what they are, you can take action. You can take a simple assessment to see if you have the risk factors, and then you can address it. You can treat this hazard with interventions that not only are safe, but effective. Multiple studies show that these treatments are powerful enough to rewrite your DNA. More on that later.

Where the Invisible Injuries Come From

First of all, we need to understand the injuries that our healthcare system cannot see. And some of the most advanced minds in medicine tell us to begin our journey in an unexpected place. The cardiologists in the American Heart Association are grappling with “the greatest public health burden in the United States . . . cardiometabolic outcomes, including obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease.”1 Every week, physicians watch more Americans die from these conditions than any other. And the older that people get, the higher their risk rises. But the American Heart Association points us to the opposite end of the lifespan. It says that intervening with children who experience trauma is a more appropriate way to address this huge cause of early death.

Well, that is a surprise. Cardiologists say that we should focus on abuse and neglect to kids, in order to reduce diabetes and heart attacks in 70 year olds. The nature of the invisible injuries, the ones that our healthcare system ignores, is revealed. They are psychological injuries. Physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Emotional or physical neglect. Having a parent with a substance abuse problem, a major mental health issue, a criminal, violence between the parents, or separation from a parent by divorce or death before age 18: these are some of the most common psychological injuries that people experience. They are so powerful, and shape people’s lives to such a degree, that they show up 60 years later as poor health and premature death. That is why the heart specialists are more worried about what happens to 7 year olds, than the seniors who sit in their waiting rooms.

How Emotional Wounds Damage Our Flesh

How on earth does this happen? How does experiencing physical abuse as an 8 year old shorten one’s lifespan? How do insulting words turn into diabetes? Or sexual abuse trigger a heart attack 50 years in the future? To answer this, we need to dive deep into what happens when a child is badly frightened.

When a person experiences a terrifying event, one system in the brain kicks in very rapidly, the fight or flight response.2 Regardless of the threat (a bear or a raging parent), the brain helps you to respond immediately, and have the maximum amount of energy available to either fight the threat or flee from it. A region of the brain called the amygdala monitors the information from the eyes, ears, and other senses. When it interprets something as dangerous, it zips a signal to another part of the brain, the hypothalamus. This functions as a command center, and activates the sympathetic nervous system. This system tells the adrenal glands to release adrenaline, which squirts into the bloodstream. Now things really start rocking, because adrenaline is designed to energize the body to either fight the threat and kill it, or flee from it into safety. The heart beats faster, pushing blood to the muscles and other organs. Blood sugar and fats are released from temporary storage, which puts more energy in the blood stream. Not only do people breathe faster, but the airways in their lungs open wider, to absorb more oxygen.

It is not just the organs that are activated, muscle cells are revved up by adrenaline as well. If you are faced by a bear, you want your muscles to work very fast and hard. As the adrenaline is carried to the muscles by the blood, it locks onto receptors.3 This triggers a very complex cascade in the cell, that frees up a lot of glucose. The glucose is broken down into carbon dioxide and water, and in the process, it creates dozens of molecules (ATP) that are used to power the muscles. This process happens in the power plant of the cell, the mitochondria. And like all power plants, it emits some noxious byproducts. Diesel engines produce little particles of soot, gasoline engines produce carbon monoxide, and the mitochondria produces a group of molecules known as reactive oxygen species (ROS). The worst member of this group of ROS are hydroxyl radicals. And like radicals everywhere, they are not interested in keeping things stable. They are radicals after all, and they want to bust things up. They will break bonds in DNA, in proteins, even in water.

The Tears in Our DNA

Breaking bonds in water is not a big problem for cells. Breaking apart DNA molecules is. DNA contains the genetic code for life, and if errors enter the code, then damage can compound. If the DNA in the mitochondria has breaks in the strands of DNA, then more hydroxyl radicals are created, which causes more breaks in the DNA, which leads to more hydroxyl radicals, and a vicious spiral is created. The hydroxyl radicals also attack DNA in the nucleus, causing breaks there as well. If your DNA has breaks or parts of it are cut out, then those flaws are passed on to the next generation. One of the results is that the cell dies early. And when your cells die early, you die early.

All that is just from the effects of adrenaline. But the body does more than release adrenaline to rev you up in the fight or flight response. Remember, your brain is extremely interested in keeping you alive, and has a second system in place to make sure that you either fight and kill the threat, or sprint away from it. The second system is activated in the hypothalamus, if it keeps on getting the message that danger is nearby. This system is the HPA axis, because the Hypothalamus signals the Pituitary gland, which signals the Adrenal glands. If the adrenal glands get the message that danger is still around (there is a swarm of bees, not just a single bee) then it releases cortisol.

Nearly every cell in the body has receptors for cortisol, showing how important it is, and how the whole body is involved in the fight or flight response. Cortisol mobilizes glucose into the bloodstream, giving the body energy for a longer period of time to either fight or flee. In order to keep the glucose in the blood so that it is available for your muscles, cortisol inhibits insulin from storing the glucose into cells. Cortisol also narrows the arteries, which increases blood pressure and forces the heart to pump faster. It reduces inflammation in the body as well. All of these effects help your body in the short term to cope with danger. Thanks to cortisol, your muscles have more energy available to them, your heart speeds up (which brings more oxygen and glucose to your muscles), and you are more able to cope with injury.

But there is a dark side as well. Experiments show that cortisol creates reactive nitrogen species inside cells.4 Like their nasty cousins (reactive oxygen species), they go on to damage DNA. No wonder that people with high levels of cortisol show more breakage in their DNA.5 6 And when people have high levels of cortisol in their blood for long periods of time, due to chronic stress, there is a cascade of negative effects.7 Cortisol suppresses the immune system, making people more susceptible to infections. Cortisol results in weight gain in three different pathways, including storing fat in the belly, overeating, and craving junk foods. Because cortisol puts glucose in the bloodstream, and stops insulin from taking it out, the cells become insulin resistant. This may lead to Type II diabetes. Cortisol also elevates blood pressure, which results in hypertension. And when you mix obesity, diabetes, and hypertension together, that is a good recipe for cardiovascular disease.

If this sounds familiar, it is because they are the conditions the American Heart Association was telling us are the greatest health burden in the US. Now we can see why the AHA is worried about kids’ experiencing trauma and abuse in childhood. Because when a stepmother slaps an 8 year old’s face, the kid goes into fight or flight mode. Adrenaline and cortisol gush into his bloodstream. And if she criticizes him repeatedly, the stress hormones fill his blood time and again. His DNA breaks down faster than his body can repair it, glucose is in his bloodstream for too long, and his blood pressure is too high.

Growing Up Does Not Heal You

The child is not healed of this destructive pattern simply by growing up and moving away. Terrifying events (such as being molested by a swimming coach) are imprinted on the amygdala in the brain as soon as they happen. Because the event was so frightening and dangerous, the brain constantly scans the environment, looking for any signals of danger. When it sees, hears, or smells anything that is associated with the original trauma, it triggers off the fight or flight response, in order to mobilize the person to get away from the danger.

This alters the brain of the child, so that the regions involved in fear, anxiety, and impulsive responses produce too many connections between the brain cells.8 This can change the stress system so that it responds at lower thresholds to events that might not be stressful to others. And if it is activated, it can take a lot longer for the traumatized child to calm down than a child without any psychological injuries. Therefore, the stress response system activates more frequently and for longer periods than is necessary, like revving a car engine for hours every day.

Now we see why getting older and moving away does not heal the child. Because their brain is over-wired for fear, anxiety, and other negative emotions. And leaving home does not rewrite damaged DNA. Psychological injuries produce a huge web of destructive effects. People freak out over small things, and cannot calm down. The mistakes in their DNA get passed on as their cells divide, a ticking time bomb of disease. The person carries shame, guilt, anger and more from the abuse. They believe they cannot reach out for help, because of the neglect.

The Wrong Bandaids Make Invisible Wounds Worse

When people carry a lot of emotional pain from their invisible wounds, they try to numb it out. And this is the second way that psychological injuries are a massive factor in 7 of the 10 leading causes of early death.9 Because junk food can be an anaesthetic to emotional pain. Smoking calms jittery nerves. Alcohol and drugs distract and dull painful memories. Anywhere you look, people with psychological injuries are abusing substances to try and soothe themselves. People with 4 or more traumas as a kid are 40% more likely to be overweight or obese than those with no traumas.10 They are 3 times more likely to smoke,11 and nearly 6 times more likely to have problems with alcohol,12 or use illicit drugs.13 The impact is so big that childhood traumas are estimated to account for one half to two third of serious problems with drug use.

And if people did not get consistent love in childhood, they will look in the wrong places to try and fill the void. Those with 4 or more traumas are 4 times more likely to start sexual activity earlier than their peers, and become pregnant as a teenager, than those with no traumas. They are 4 times more likely to have more than 50 sexual partners, and 6 times more likely to have sexually transmitted diseases. They are three times as likely to marry an alcoholic.

Stepping back, we see that psychological injuries have three major pathways by which they shape our lifespan. First, repeatedly going into fight or flight damages our DNA, and affects our body from the toxic and chronic stress. Second, people cope with the pain through abusing substances. And the dangers of excessive food, smoking, alcohol, and illicit drugs to our health are well known. Finally, people often seek out comfort through relationships, even if they are unhealthy. Teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and the stress of living with a substance-abusing spouse seriously corrode a person’s well-being.

Three Paths to Early Death

You can see where this is going. If a person has broken DNA because of the overly frequent releases of adrenaline and cortisol, and they cope with their psychological injuries by smoking, their risk of cancer skyrockets. If they have 4 or more childhood traumas, they are 2.5 times more likely to develop cancer, compared to people who are emotionally not injured.14 This is not just a statistic, this is the story of my family. My mother lost her mother when she was a little girl. She grew up in Holland during the Second World War, and had 4 psychological injuries from those experiences. Her risk of cancer was 250% higher as a result, and it showed up. Even though she did not smoke, cancer took her life in her early 50’s.

Cancer is not the only possible outcome for people with 4 or more childhood traumas. They are 3 times more likely to develop heart disease.15 This actually dwarfs the influence of genetics — a team from Harvard found that those with the highest genetic risk of heart disease were 65% more likely to develop it,16 but those at the highest psychological risk were 310% more likely to have it. The story continues: 4 or more childhood traumas triples the risk of developing diabetes, it has a 6 fold increase in risk of stroke, a person is 3.5 times more likely to develop cardio-obstructive pulmonary disease, and 2.5 times more likely to have liver/digestive disease.

The most dramatic example is suicide. Having no childhood traumas gives a 1% risk of attempting suicide by middle age. One trauma doubles the risk, two traumas doubles it again, on and on until the people with 7 or more traumas are 36 times more likely to attempt suicide than those who have none.17 Thirty-six times more likely!

The data is overwhelming. Seven of the 10 causes of early death are hugely influenced by psychological injuries, and the influence is far greater than genetics. The mix of broken DNA, chronic stress on the body, dysfunctional ways of coping with pain by abusing substances, and rotten relationships rip years, even decades off people’s lives.18

Doctors Do Not Know Why People Die Early

And yet our health care system completely ignores this mountain of research. The doctors do not even know about it. I have met many fine family physicians who have never heard of these scientific findings. As I chat with them over lunch, or as we cycle together, they are astonished by the data. Although they are well-trained to diagnose what is diabetes and what is liver disease, they have no idea that psychological injuries are such a big cause of them. I have met professors at the top universities in the world, and have good friends who taught at Harvard. They work very long hours to research cancer and heart disease, and have never seen the science linking psychological injuries to these fatal conditions. They don’t know that this link is much stronger than the genetic one. Think about it: Just by reading this article, you now know more on this topic than many doctors and professors in your city.

This is just one of many reasons why our sophisticated healthcare system ignores the single largest cause of early death. Since the physicians do not know about the role of psychological injuries, they cannot assess for them. And if they cannot assess them, they cannot treat them. And if they cannot treat the problem, then it will just carry on, year after year, causing more unnecessary suffering. The role of psychological injuries in 7 of the 10 leading causes of early death is not being addressed and treated and solved in the current system.

Those Who Know, Are Paid to Shut Up

Oddly enough, the professionals in the system who know the most about psychological injuries and their role in terrible diseases and early death have no interest in telling their physician colleagues about them. Doing this would actually be against their financial interest — they would lose a lot of money. Consider this fact: the 273 speakers at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in 2008 had signed 1371 consulting or promotional contracts for one or another drug company.19 On average, 5 different drug companies were paying each speaker. And as I discussed in a previous article (which you can read here), the drug companies strongly want to promote the idea of ‘chemical imbalances’ as causing mental health problems. Once someone accepts the idea, they then believe they have to take pills to correct the imbalance. Which is very profitable for the drug companies.

And every psychiatrist who accepts money from the drug companies understands that they have to promote the interests of the drug companies. They signed a promotional contract, and they could get sued if they do not fulfill it. They better talk up chemical imbalances and pills. It would be quite uncomfortable if they were to describe the research on how psychological injuries (whether childhood trauma, highly stressful life events, toxic bosses, or trauma in adulthood) are the single largest cause of both physical and mental health problems. Some family doctor at the back of the room might raise their hand and say, “If sexual abuse has such a terrible impact on health, shouldn’t we assess for it, and use psychotherapy first? The pills might numb the pain for a while, but if people stop taking them they relapse because the pain is still there. Therapy can address and help heal the sexual abuse, and has no negative side effects.”

The psychiatrist is suddenly in an awkward spot. If they agree with the doctor, then they have just undercut the market for pills, and promoted psychotherapy, and no drug company will give them a consulting contract again. And these are very lucrative. Even though psychiatrists are 5% of MD’s in the US, they are 55% of the best paid consultants to the drug companies.20 That is a lot of cash — top psychiatrists have made millions in consulting to drug companies.21

Clearly, many psychiatrists are not going to change anytime soon. As long as they accept the dollars, the psychiatrists will sing the song that Big Pharma writes for them. They will not be pushing to reorganize the health care system around assessing and treating psychological injuries, they will be fulfilling their promotional contracts with the makers of pills. Which is a pity. Because understanding how emotional wounds shape our bodies, and cause so many illnesses, and coming up with highly effective ways to treat them, is arguably the single most important contribution to improving physical and mental health in the 21st century.

But you do not have to wait for others. You may have been a bit on edge for the last few paragraphs, because you recognized that you have psychological injuries. Your anxiety may have jumped when you read how they contribute to so many fatal conditions. However, there actually is good news. Because injuries are very different from imbalances. Injuries can be healed. Imbalances cannot, you just have to take something for the rest of your life to correct it. There is a major difference between a broken hip and Type I diabetes. You may need surgery, casting, and physiotherapy for your broken hip, but you will eventually be walking on your way. With Type I diabetes, you will constantly be correcting the imbalance of insulin.

How to Heal Your Invisible Injuries

And the best way to heal a psychological injury is with psychotherapy. That is because therapy is the opposite dynamic to what caused the injury in the first place. In therapy, the client feels heard, understood, and respected by the therapist. Years earlier, the client felt overwhelmed and degraded by their abuser. In therapy, the client talks about their goals, and the therapist helps them to achieve those goals. Long ago, what the child wanted was totally ignored by the perpetrator, who was focused only on their evil desires. In therapy, the counselor uses an approach that fits well with the client and that they buy into. In the past, the abuser did exactly what they wanted, regardless of what the child wanted. In therapy, the client feels very safe. In the past, the child felt fear and uncertainty. And as the client experiences respect from the therapist as they work toward their goal, moving at a pace and in a direction that feels right to them, the psychological injury starts to heal. The support and encouragement nurtures a sense of worth, safety, and calm in the client that was not there before.

Healing in Every Cell of Your Body

And the healing can be very deep indeed. Psychologists in Germany worked with a group of refugees from the Middle East.22 These people had fled wars in Syria, and seen family members shot and their homes burned. They had experienced terrible trauma. In fact, when the researchers measured their DNA, they found that the refugees had as many breaks in their DNA as people who had been exposed to an atomic bomb blast. Their nightmares were terrifying, the flashbacks were intense, and although many of them took psychiatric pills, those did not solve the problem. Half of the group of refugees waited for treatment, while the psychologists treated the other half for their post-traumatic stress disorder. The people who had to wait for treatment had no change, either in their symptoms of PTSD or their DNA. However, the refugees who received psychotherapy for their PTSD not only had their symptoms vanish, but their DNA was as healthy as people who had never been exposed to a trauma at all!

The positive impact of therapy on physical health shows up in dozens of studies. When kids or adults respond well to psychotherapy, their DNA changes.23 24 These occur even if the people have serious problems with suicidal impulses, emotional instability and distorted thinking. Therapy results in improved functioning of the immune system and less diarrhea, nausea, and chronic pain among people treated for PTSD.25 It also reduces inflammation, as a variety of markers of inflammation (C-Reactive protein, Inter-leukin 6, tumor necrosis factor alpha) are lower after therapy than before.26 Therapy can even facilitate growth in a person’s brain. Although people with PTSD had less gray matter than those without PTSD, after therapy, the amount of gray matter was equal between the two groups.27 In other studies, people with PTSD had a smaller hippocampus in their brain than those without PTSD.28 After therapy, the hippocampus of traumatized people grew to be the same size as the control group.29

Therapy can be helpful even when people develop a major illness. If people develop coronary heart disease, therapy is associated with a 21% reduction in cardiac mortality, across dozens of studies.30 It also improves depression, anxiety and stress levels. There even is a positive impact of therapy on cancer. People who receive therapy (in addition to usual cancer treatment) survive significantly longer than those who do not.31 The effect exists for people with cancers that are less aggressive and developed, and who are single.

These findings give real hope for anyone, no matter how bad their psychological injuries. DNA that is damaged as badly as in an atomic bomb blast can be repaired and rewritten as a result of therapy. The immune system functions better, inflammation and chronic pain is reduced, and the brain can even grow to the same size as people who have never been traumatized. If people do develop heart disease or cancer, psychological interventions can help them survive longer.

But the hope is for those who seek out therapy, not pills. Psychoactive pills have a different effect on people’s health. Antidepressants, and especially antipsychotics, can cause major weight gain. This increases the risk of diabetes from 30% to 258%, respectively.32 33 This is just one of 20 types of adverse effects, ranging from gastrointestinal problems to increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures, to sexual dysfunction, to cardiovascular problems and more.34 The pills can trigger suicidal thinking in young people, and have a black-box warning from the FDA to that effect. They also increase the risk of suicide attempts or completion in adults by 2.5 times.35 That is not the only fatal risk. Antidepressants increase the risk of early death by 33%, while antipsychotics increase the risk of sudden cardiac death by 226%.36 37 Whether it is increased risk of diabetes, fractures, cardiovascular problems, suicidal acts or early death, pills can result in a shorter lifespan, not a longer one.

Now we see how the Psychological Injury model can help save your life. It says that the single biggest factor in 7 of the 10 causes of early death is emotional wounds. (They also are the biggest cause of mental health problems, which you can read about here.) And even though the physicians do not know about this cause, and therefore cannot assess for these emotional injuries and then treat them, you now have this knowledge and power. You can use this truth to guide your changes to a longer and more robust life.

The Most Important Document for Your Health

The next step for you is assessment. The current approaches miss the mark. Hospitals use machines to look at broken bones or malformed flesh, psychiatrists ask about clusters of symptoms you have had in the last few weeks — neither approach systematically looks at the emotional wounds you have experienced in the past. (Why psychiatrists do not ask these questions is a huge topic for another time.) The PI model says that a new approach to assessing people is needed, which is to map out all their psychological injuries. Only then can a professional understand what happened to a person, how they coped with it, and how they wound up in this particular place in life. You can access this new approach for free by going to psychologicalinjuryindex.com and downloading it. When you fill it out, you will notice that it asks about 4 major areas: childhood trauma, toxic boss, highly stressful life events, and trauma in adulthood. Each area is relevant and has a major impact on your health. For example, working in an environment that you strongly feel is unfair increases your risk of heart attack by 55%.38 Or having a trauma in adulthood and developing PTSD is strongly associated with suicidality. It may be challenging to fill in the Psychological Injury Index (PII), as emotions may rise up, or you may have thoughts that you should be over these experiences. I encourage you to press on, as your life is worth it.

Once it is filled in, the PII is the single most important document in your healthcare plan. Because for the very first time, you have a map of the factors that are most likely to trigger 7 of the 10 leading causes of early death for you. Nobody else has this map. Your doctor does not have it, heck, they likely do not even know what you now know about the link between psychological injuries and fatal diseases. It would be very good if they knew (feel free to share this article with them, it has dozens of research articles supporting it). However, you do not have to wait for your physician. Because you can shape the path of your life yourself, by acting on the results of the Psychological Injury Index.

Finding the Best Healing for Your Invisible Wounds

With assessment in hand, you can start your treatment. The third major tenet of the PI model is that psychotherapy is the optimal approach for healing psychological injuries, because it creates the opposite dynamic to that which caused the wound. But seeking out the best therapy can be tricky. There is a bewildering variety of approaches, and it can leave your head spinning. The key truth to keep in mind when seeking out therapy is that the single biggest factor that influences whether clients improve is their sense of teamwork with their therapist. It is not so much about the technique used (ACT, EMDR, CBT), it is far more about the therapeutic alliance you experience with your psychologist or counsellor. The sense of teamwork is crucial, for people heal people. For that reason, try out two or three therapists to evaluate with whom you have the best sense of connection. And since the sense of teamwork is so central, seek out therapists who measure it in each session. The process of measuring helps to create a culture of feedback and dialogue about your work together, and whether it is on track or not. If you were being treated for high blood pressure, you would want your physician to measure your blood pressure each time you met her, to see if the interventions are working. Multiple research studies show that measuring if clients are making progress in therapy, and their sense of teamwork with the therapist in each session, can double or even triple the effectiveness of therapy.39 40 41 42 These are major improvements in the quality of therapy, and are crucial to the PI model.

Although clients improve faster when the therapist measures outcomes and alliance, it is well worth staying in therapy even if the immediate pain has diminished. Deep psychological injuries take a long time to heal, and affect people in many different ways. I have repeatedly had the experience where clients disclose sexual abuse only after a year or more of therapy, because it has taken so long for them to build sufficient trust to discuss this very painful event. Even after disclosure, beliefs that they deserved the sexual abuse, or are filthy and worthless, can take many months of steady effort to undo. It also is a real journey to change the dysfunctional patterns of coping with emotional wounds. Reaching for a phone to talk to a sponsor in AA when angry or lonely instead of reaching for a bottle of vodka usually does not happen immediately and permanently. It is a challenge to learn to navigate one’s pain, instead of numbing it out with a substance. But it is a very worthwhile one.

You and your loved ones now have a new future. Whether the psychological injury was early in your life or recent, whether your boss bullied you, or your business partner stole from you, whatever the nature of your emotional wound, a healthy new future is possible. Torn DNA can be woven together again, blood pressure can drop, gray matter in the brain can grow, and you can greatly reduce the risk of 7 of the 10 leading causes of early death. Download the Psychological Injury Index, fill it in, and seek out a therapist you connect with, who measures outcomes and alliance in therapy. And as you are heard and respected, as the counselor helps you achieve your goals, or the psychologist uses an approach that works for you, the emotional injuries heal, and your body does as well. The Psychological Injury model shows a path that can save your life, and with all you have been through, you deserve a long and robust future.

Show 42 footnotes

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  9. Stats Canada https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-625-x/2014001/article/11896-eng.htm
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  14. Bellis, M.A., Hughes, K., Leckenby, N., Hardcastle, K.A., Perkins, C., Lowey. H. (2014). Measuring mortality and the burden of adult disease associated with adverse childhood experiences in England: a national survey. Journal of Public Health, Vol. 37, No. 3, pp. 445–454
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  19. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/06/harvard-history-professor-traces-the-rise-of-psychiatric-drugs/
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23 COMMENTS

  1. Decades ago, Abram Hoffer began to treat such individuals with a program based around niacin, starting with a gent who’d been held by the Japanese for nearly 4 years. The response was so noticeable that he wound up treating a number of former concentration camp prisoners who’d been held by the Germans (Hoffer was Jewish, himself, which led to him getting a number of referrals of these individuals).

  2. Very good! Yes, trauma causes unnatural shifts in energy, along with energy blocks, and if left unaddressed the energy from the trauma and unexpressed emotions get embedded in our cells and can affect us adversely in a variety of ways–in our bodies, in our relationships, and in the quality of our lives. It can be so subtle and insidious because it is the familiar, which makes it especially tricky and actually requires waking up to it, which can be a hard truth.

    This is where good, heart-based and focused support can be extremely helpful, I believe, and advantageous, because it can be a challenging cross-over. However, leaving these energies and blocks unaddressed at the core causes repetiition and snowballing of the energy because the trauma is trying to work its way out, and until it does, it will only attract more of the same. In the meantime, we feel more and more oppressed by our own bodies.

    There is a way out of that, and I’m so glad your article highlights this! But no, it’s not easy, it’s quite challenging, and uniquely rewarding. I see it as deprogramming from false beliefs, and that involves a network of shifts which take place in the body, including neural pathways, to change thought habits. That shifts our entire energy field and creates new perspectives and realities. That is core change, from the inside out.

    I’ve been through this type of healing, and it’s rather close to miraculous, honestly, and I’ve helped others over the years facilitate such a transformation. It’s quite something to witness, as it is to experience. Takes diligence, dedication to healing, and permission for change to occur, surrending to it.

    When we shift focus, perspective, and beliefs, we create openings for that energy to be corrected and we are easier in our flow of energy and, therefore, in our well-being. That is when our experience will change for the better, because we have released old past time energy that got stuck in the body, so we create new experiences, not repeating the past.

    This is the foundation of energy healing. Our emotions are critical to how we guide ourselves through life. If they get judged, shamed, numbed, or disregarded, we’re in the dark because we’re disconnected from our guidance system. And it is NEVER too late to wake up and turn on the light. Healing the wounds creates fertile ground for healing the body, because it would no longer be working against itself.

    Great article and info, thanks!

  3. THE ROLL OF THE DICE

    “…The most dramatic example is suicide. Having no childhood traumas gives a 1% risk of attempting suicide by middle age. One trauma doubles the risk, two traumas doubles it again, on and on until the people with 7 or more traumas are 36 times more likely to attempt suicide than those who have none.17 Thirty-six times more likely!…”

    I attempted suicide twice in my 20s in a neuroleptic drug induced state of Acute Akathisia, but I never attempted suicide before starting or since discontinuing the “offending medication”. And I recovered as a result of withdrawing from the drugs. So what category might I be in?

    A “nightmare event” occurred to me 6 years ago in my early 50s when I was given a diagnosis of ocular malignant melanoma. I was told that the cancer might have already spread and that I might die; that I might lose my left eye due to treatment; or that considerable vision in my left eye might be lost. I knew at the time that if I started thinking in the state I was in, that I would “go mad”. I was able to hold off my thinking until I levelled off. When I levelled off , I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t in danger of “going mad” and I knew I could make responsible decisions. Luckily for me the cancer outcome has so far been successful, and without too much damage.

    I used the same tactic (of “avoiding my head”) when I was withdrawing from the “offending medication” that had caused my Acute Akathisia in my 20s, as I was going into “Nightmare Mode” regularly at the time.

    Last year I visited the Registrar of my last Acute Akathisia hospitalization (34 years previously) (now an eminent Psychiatrist) and he stated in a well written letter that he was confident that I had never suffered from “Schizophrenia” to begin with.

    But if I hadn’t withdrawn successfully from the “offending drugs” (through my “dealing with waking nightmare” technique), I wonder if any Psychiatrist would have been in a position to diagnose me as “non Schizophrenic”.

  4. I’m sure there are good and bad psychologists, Eric, and you may truly be one of the good ones? I don’t know, because I have not researched into whom you are, and don’t know you personally. But you are ignoring the systemic, historic, unrepentant, child rape covering up crimes of many within the psychological industry over the past century.

    https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2019/01/23/18820633.php?fbclid=IwAR2-cgZPcEvbz7yFqMuUwneIuaqGleGiOzackY4N2sPeVXolwmEga5iKxdo

    And you are ignoring or denying the fact that the psychologists have been working in cahoots with the scientific fraud based, “chemical imbalance” and DSM believing psychiatrists, for over a half of a century. The psychologists and psychiatrists both believe in, thus still utilize, the BS DSM billing code “bible.”

    https://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/directors/thomas-insel/blog/2013/transforming-diagnosis.shtml
    https://www.wired.com/2010/12/ff_dsmv/

    A DSM billing code “bible” that does NOT allow ANY “mental health” worker to EVER bill ANY health insurance company for EVER helping ANY child abuse survivor EVER.

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-child-does-not-have-bipolar-disorder/201402/dsm-5-and-child-neglect-and-abuse-1

    And this inability for ANY “mental health” worker – psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, family counselor, et al – to EVER bill ANY health insurance company for EVER helping ANY child abuse survivor EVER. Has resulted in the misdiagnoses of child abuse survivors with the billable, but scientifically “invalid” DSM disorders, on a massive societal scale.

    https://www.madinamerica.com/2016/04/heal-for-life/

    This flaw in the DSM, has resulted in “the prevalence of childhood trauma exposure within borderline personality disorder patients […being] as high as 92% (Yen et al., 2002). Within individuals diagnosed with psychotic or affective disorders, it reaches 82% (Larsson et al., 2012)”

    Eric, you tout the benefits of talk therapy for healing from trauma. But you and your industry have yet to repent for the historic child rape and trauma denying, and covering up for profit crimes, by both the psychological and psychiatric industries, over the past decades and century.

  5. I don’t understand the logical flow of this thesis. No, I understand it. I simply don’t see how its premises follow from one another.

    In a nutshell, humans evolved mechanisms to cope with stressful life-threatening situations, to increase the odds of surviving them.
    The costs of surviving these life-threatening situations was early death and more disease. And not just for them, but for generations
    of ancestors that followed.

    Thus, trauma built up in successive generations, bringing huge burdens of disease and life-shortening physical and mental problems.

    Which is a retelling of the Original Sin narrative. Only now it’s the Original Trauma.

    This thesis is suggesting that it is detrimental to many iterations/generations of the human genome to survive a life-threatening trauma. In fact it is tantamount to an act of malice to survive life-threatening trauma. Because human bodies have evolved to survive trauma and then punish it.

    Just as some others consider humans to be created to sin and then get punished for sinning.

    Only a therapist can atone you of your ancestors’ sins of surviving attacks by sabre-tooth tigers and non homo hominids. They do this via renewed (newly made-up) shamanic techniques that helped our ancestors see the value of not aspiring to a long-life and greeting Death with open, non-traumatised arms. To save many future generations from lifelong suffering.

    Only those that can afford weekly sessions of open bullshitting with a credentialed psychotherapist can atone for their ancestors sins. On average this takes about $50,000 per person, per sabre-tooth tiger attack.

  6. I don’t have any problems with your explanations of the science but I do think you speak in overly praising terms about psychotherapists and therapy itself. Much of what passed as therapy for me was further traumatizing – especially the childhood intervention you promote so strongly. This tends to lead advocates to push for more family separation in order to protect the child, but the foster care statistics are abysmal and troubled children especially are often further abused by non-familial foster caregivers, increasing, not decreasing that child’s trauma load.

    Twenty-five years of therapy made it possible for me to speak of horrific traumas without really feeling the pain. That doesn’t mean the pain isn’t there, it means I learned to perform for therapists. Acting okay isn’t the same as being okay.

    The current licensing guidelines in maryland for psychotherapists requires multiple courses each on DSM diagnosing and psychopharmacology. This directly promotes psychiatry, not healing from personal connection and safe emotional exploration.

    Additionally, I do not think that even excellent psychotherapy is a panacea for the very clear and alarming science about chronic disease and early death among those of us with high ACEs. My understanding of epigenetic changes is that deletions of genetic code are permanent. I have accepted that despite the long telomeres I inherited which have meant my female family members routinely live into their 90s, I will probably die young.

    I think this topic deserves a lot more discussion but I am extremely leery of simple solutions such as therapy, especially when promoted with such glowing prose. I can only imagine you aren’t personally familiar with how much damage this system doles out to those already deeply harmed.

    • US healthcare is literally killing people:-

      https://www.ft.com/content/05f7fa82-a315-11e9-a282-2df48f366f7d

      “…The US system costs more than twice as much, per person, as the universal coverage provided by the UK’s NHS. Even the government-funded part of the US system costs more per capita than the NHS…

      ..Why so expensive? It’s because US doctors prescribe more treatments, and those treatments cost much more than they do elsewhere….

      …American hospitals and drug companies have enormous leeway to raise prices — insurers have limited bargaining power, and uninsured patients even less…”

      (Professor Angus Deaton + Economist Anne Case)

    • Good point. The medical profession is killing people. Not only are the killing people, they are causing PTSD in many people. Almost everyone I know on nutrition support whether on tube feeding or TPN has PTSD induced by receiving healthcare. Not to mention most of us are terrified on medical kidnapping. This happens when family members are separated from the patient. The medical profession will claim that the family member is causing the illness. The patient is then determined to have a mental health condition for example anorexia nervosa when the patient actually has a GI motility disorder, commonly Gastroparesis. The patient is then force fed oftentimes through the g portion of their GJ tube even though tests demonstrate delayed gastric emptying. The patient will experience pain and vomiting. Even beg the nurse to stop. The nurse will refuse and the patient will continue to be force fed and oftentimes this leads to death of the patient. Patient abuse needs to stop. Interesting though I think those abusing the patients do not perceive their behavior as inappropriate. Don’t even getting me started on “mental illness.” I am regularly told I must suffer from depression because I have a chronic illness. And once depression is in your medical chart there is no getting it out. Once depressed always depressed. Not to mention a mental health diagnosis justifies abuse of the patient. When my mom worked at a hospital testing newborns for hearing she overheard the nurses on the maternity floor state you can mistreat that patient she has a “mental illness” and she won’t know any better. You can not ask the very people that are abusing the patients to treat abuse.

  7. Eric, I’m by no means anti-counseling. But those in the system can only afford “standard treatment.”

    Pill pushing “therapy” sessions at community centers. Where the “treatment team” combines brain damaging drugs with repeated messages of hopelessness.

    I wish you well though.

  8. This article takes a fresh approach using old worn out terms, in my opinion. New wine in old bottles. When one uses “injury” to describe psychological trauma, this perpetuates the medical ideas.

    I’ve seen a lot of psychotherapists in my time, and in my experience, only one was good. That’s all I needed. Most were useless and a few harmful. None of them discussed with me in the beginning, their potential, based on their training and success or failures, to be helpful to me. None evaluated our progress.

    I have to agree with Steve McCrea. The omission of psych drugs as the third leading cause of death was a large error in this article.

    In my opinion, unless one is in a severe psych emergency, there is no need to seek professional help, like a psychotherapist. Just talking to someone who is a good listener–empathetic and non-judging, can be just as helpful. And what about peer support?

    Self-help, when applicable, is far more empowering than outside interventions.

    In choosing a professional therapist, besides one who does not judge, I would look for one who would teach me life skills.

  9. Hey, this is painful to read, but the medical stuff is killer and clear and seems like I should have known it all automatically. What I have to add to this conversation is . . . substrate, background, maybe a less male-centric version of evolutionary psychology. I think this is all no accident, that humans have rules about abuse, mostly that everybody gets some. Abuse is part of our lives, criminal and otherwise. We have normalized and legalized a certain level of it, everyone must behave within certain parameters, the price of civilization, so to speak – but the good legal stuff and the bad criminal stuff, it’s all abuse, a little bit doesn’t have the opposite effect that a lot of it has. There is a whole lot of abuse, some of exactly the stuff on this page, that wouldn’t be happening if just about everyone didn’t think some level of it was good for you. The bad stuff is going on all around us, all the time, and we can’t see it, because it’s not that different from the good kind, that nobody minds. A crying child next door? Probably the good kind, right? That’s probably how the neighbors reacted listening to the crying from my family, I’d like to think that if they all feared the worst, that somebody might have picked up the phone. But all this damage, all these multiple injuries, human stuff over and above or as well as natural disasters and illnesses – we are unconsciously compelled to do just that. everybody must get stoned. I think it’s all about warrior society, in-group and out-group stuff, we think – unconsciously – that if we are not abused, we won’t be tough enough to warrior and defend. This is what “spoiled” means – spoiling a future, driven, snarling aggressive, not afraid of dying troop soldier by not providing the necessary early abuse – I’m against it! This is not an endorsement! But this is what I think our unconscious minds are up to and we need to know it to stop it. Surely, we have all noticed that it seems harder to stop it than stopping some random thing, some accident, abuse, I mean. That’s my theory, Murphy’s Law of Nature: “nurture” as a powerful agent, means abuse, and that’s what we do that actually changes people. Just in the wrong way.

    • thanks for allowing this. I know it’s not . . . productive, from the therapy POV and it’s not immediately apparent that we’re going to be able to anything about it, but somehow, I feel we need to start to see it anyway, nothing can happen until that happens. I’m trying to find some language for it, it’s hard to even talk without being on the in-group side of something, hard to find language that isn’t suffused with some enemy or some other, controlling everything.
      Don’t have to post this, just thanks.

  10. I thoroughly enjoyed the article. It reminded me of a stream leading to a river where there is a canoe or a rowboat available for use to reach the other shore. I really enjoyed the article. As I get older I tend to think that life involves trauma. Period. Abuse and violence. That’s the common thread of societies. The flip side to that is all the “good stuff” that we also carry with us and make our heart beat and eyes sparkle. I abhor the push of pharma as a solution to natural life experiences such as trauma. What ever happened to friends and sharing a good cup of whatta whatta.
    I would aim at teaching young adults some of your theories. Thanks.