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Navigating Trauma: Insights from a Human Services Journey

Working in the Human Service Field for approximately 15 years, the more I serve children and families, the more I realize the significant role that trauma plays in their lives. In the field of community-based services, 90% of the families that are in services have some level of personal, cyclical, or multi-generational trauma within their families. Trauma within families has increasingly become a tragic legacy passed down from generation to generation, creating a society of individuals who have become burdened with the pains of their past, and as they try to create a life worth living; they discover that it becomes increasingly difficult without healing. This can make the very act of living difficult and overwhelming.

 It is important to understand how childhood trauma can impact the life of a child which could consequently impact their emotional and mental health into adulthood. Experiencing trauma at a young age can cause a child to see the world only through the lens of trauma which can cause a level of distrust and create a lack of desire to contribute positively to the world around them. Children exposed to trauma are prevalent with more than two-thirds of them experiencing some type of traumatic event during their childhood. More than one type of trauma is happening to one-third of our children and as a result, 20% of trauma-exposed children develop mental health issues like posttraumatic stress disorder. Along with posttraumatic stress disorder, children also experience depressive and anxiety symptoms which can cause substantial impairment in n their daily functioning and overall well-being.

There are major factors that contribute to the development of problems in children like significant behavioral problems within the school system. Many people, including those in the human service field, do not realize the significant impact that trauma has on the body, in particular the brain. Journal articles that explore childhood trauma history have linked it to abnormal brain activities, particularly in individuals with major depressive disorders (MDD),  show findings of the dramatic primary association of the brain’s resting state network and its connection to abnormalities in those with a history of childhood trauma. Childhood trauma that includes physical, sexual, or emotional abuse causes disorders like  MDD to manifest.  MDD symptoms include impaired daily function and suicidal ideation, insomnia, and disruption in cognitive functions like attention and memory. MDD is just one disorder that has been attributed to trauma.  Other disorders linked to MDD include posttraumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and severe anxiety disorders. Obtaining knowledge of how the brain is impacted or even fractured in some senses as a result of trauma is important for those who are called to provide counsel and therapy to victims. This knowledge is important as we assist clients with their reconstruction and healing process.

My very own traumatic past has made me a lifelong student of trauma and its significant impact on the mind, body, and spirit. The work of understanding trauma can enlighten and educate a generation of people who look at children and adults with mental and emotional health issues as just people with problems. We as a society need to understand and recognize that their lives included experiences that they did not ask for and there is a real struggle to navigate through a myriad of dysfunctions and diagnoses that erupt as a result of experiences that someone else forced on them. It is not easy for society to discuss, but that does not mean it is not necessary. Our perspective of these individuals is often tainted by the behaviors that we see or the possible impact to our own lives, but I ask myself almost daily if that perspective would be different if they could see them through a trauma informed lens. Would it be seen as more significant if it happened to someone in the household or extended family? What will it take for society to aid more and condemn less; to complain less and contribute more? If it were you, what would you want society to do?


Vanessa Johnson has worked in the Human Service field since 1993. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in human service counseling with a focus on crisis and trauma. Vanessa is passionate about working with children and families in the Greater Charlottesville area and surrounding counties. Currently pursuing her Doctorate degree in Community Care and Counseling (Traumatology) at Liberty University, her ultimate goal is to educate other human service professionals on the emotional and mental impact of trauma on individuals. To find out more about Vanessa Johnson, please visit

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