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chronic fatigue and childhood trauma avoidance coping

The Hidden Link between
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
and Childhood Trauma

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that puzzles doctors, therapists and clients because of it’s complex nature and difficulty in pinpointing its exact cause. However, through a whole-person lense, research has improved our understanding of the link between adverse childhood events (ACEs) and the  development of CFS and depression. This research gives us new perspectives on treatment options and betters our understanding of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Childhood Trauma & Chronic Fatigue

Studies have begun to illustrate a link between early traumatic experiences and the likelihood of developing chronic fatigue syndrome. Individuals who have faced such adversities in childhood are found to be at a significantly higher risk of experiencing the persistent and unexplained fatigue characteristic of chronic fatigue syndrome. This connection points to the deep-seated effects of trauma on the body’s stress management systems, particularly the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which governs our stress response.

See the full article that this information was derived from here:

Kempke, S., Luyten, P., De Coninck, S., Van Houdenhove, B., Mayes, L. C., & Claes, S. (2015). Effects of early childhood trauma on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function in patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Psychoneuroendocrinology52, 14–21. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.10.027

Assessing Childhood Trauma & 'ACES'

Adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s) encompass a range of traumatic exposures, from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse to neglect and household dysfunction. These experiences can affect an individual’s health well into adulthood. The impact of these traumas is profound, influencing not just mental health but also physical well-being, including the risk of developing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Differentiating Between
Chronic Fatigue, Depression & PTSD

The Role of Stress & the Body's Response

The body’s response to stress involves the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a critical part of the neuroendocrine system that regulates stress hormones. In individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome, this system can become dysregulated, possibly due to the long-term impact of childhood trauma. This dysregulation can lead to an inappropriate stress response, making it harder for the body to recover from stress and contributing to the symptoms of chronic fatigue.

Chronic Fatigue and Depression

Traditionally, CFS and depression have often been diagnosed based on symptom presentation without delving into the underlying causes. This approach overlooks the potential role of PTSD, childhood trauma, and other stress-related disorders in contributing to the condition. It’s crucial for both therapists and clients to adopt a more investigative stance, exploring the possibility that childhood trauma could be influencing current health issues.

Exploring chronic fatigue
from a whole person perspective

By recognizing the critical role of childhood trauma in the development of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, therapists can ensure that patients receive accurate diagnoses and effective, comprehensive treatment plans. 

  • Comprehensive Evaluation:
    • A thorough assessment should include a detailed exploration of an individual’s childhood experiences, looking for signs of trauma or prolonged stress.
  • Trauma-Informed Approach:
    • Therapists should employ a trauma-informed care approach, ensuring a safe environment for clients to discuss potentially traumatic past events.
  • Screening for PTSD and Other Trauma-Related Disorders:
    • Incorporating screenings for PTSD and related disorders can help identify the root causes of chronic fatigue, guiding more effective treatment strategies.
  • Psychoeducation:
    • Educating clients about the impact of trauma on physical health can empower them to understand their symptoms in a new light, fostering a more holistic approach to treatment.
  • Collaborative Care:
    • Working closely with medical professionals can ensure a comprehensive approach to treatment, addressing both the psychological and physiological aspects of CFS.

Final Thoughts

For individuals experiencing fatigue, feelings of depression, or a lack of motivation, exploring the possibility of childhood trauma as an underlying factor is a critical step. Misattributing these symptoms to a “lack of motivation” or labeling symptoms as “depression” without considering the role of early adverse experiences can hinder the healing process. By prioritizing the discussion of childhood experiences in therapy, clients and therapists can work together to uncover the true roots of these symptoms, paving the way for more effective and targeted treatments.

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The Hidden Link between Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Childhood Trauma

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Our founder, Rebecca Sidoti, is a highly qualified, state-licensed therapist and supervisor with extensive training in anxiety related disorders and innovative treatment such as Ketamine Therapy. Mind by Design Counseling adheres to standards set by the our governing counseling boards.

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we use VRT to support Exposure Therapy, a long standing traditional therapy modality to treat phobias, anxiety and stress. we send a headset directly to your home so you can access VRT from anywhere.

VRT not only helps with exposure therapy for phobias, but is great for ADHD, mindfulness, PTSD and social anxiety.

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