Emotional Trauma


At Willow House, we help patients uncover the roots of their addiction and resolve underlying emotional trauma that can manifest itself in other conditions that cause suffering.

Emotional trauma has a strong influence on a person’s quality of life, and when left unresolved, it can cause individuals to cope through substance abuse or compulsive behaviors. Research by Meadows Senior Fellow Dr. Patrick Carnes and others has shown that childhood trauma and abuse can have significant impact on whether or not a person develops a sexual addiction. In one study, 72% of those with sexual addictions reported physical abuse, 81% reported sexual abuse, and 97% reported emotional abuse. The greater the abuse individuals endured as children, the higher the likelihood that they would develop one or more addictions as adults.

At Willow House, we treat the following issues related to emotional trauma:


Depression is more than a temporary state of sadness or feeling down; the condition can have both physiological and emotional causes, and episodes can last for many days or weeks at a time. This condition is characterized by a loss of interest in things a person once enjoyed, fatigue, hopelessness, trouble concentrating, feelings of guilt, body aches and pains, and even suicidal thoughts. Depression can occur for many reasons, especially if someone has experienced emotional trauma, and it can cause an individual to self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, or compulsive behaviors.

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Anxiety can cause individuals to experience a persistent sense of dread, fear, or nervousness, rapid heart rate, trembling, sweating, and insomnia. Digestive issues are also common. People with anxiety tend to obsess on what is making them anxious, worsening their physical symptoms. Anxiety often arises from negative experiences in the past or even PTSD, and it can come on suddenly, sometimes resulting in panic attacks. Individuals may attempt to self-medicate their anxiety with alcohol or drugs, which can temporarily alleviate symptoms but eventually causes additional issues.

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that arises after an individual has experienced a traumatic event or the accumulated effects of trauma over time. A person’s brain and body become highly sensitive to stimuli related to the event or experiences, driving recurrent memories, nightmares, hallucinations, and fight-or-flight responses out of an ingrained survival instinct. The person reacts unconsciously to these stimuli, and therapeutic intervention and supportive medications may be needed to help alleviate the symptoms of PTSD. Trauma therapies like EMDR and Somatic Experiencing can ease a person’s overactive survival responses and help resolve the trauma that causes them.

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Attachment Disorders

Those who struggle with sexual addictions often have a history of emotional trauma and an inability to form healthy attachments stemming from childhood experiences. There are roughly two kinds of childhood attachment disorders: Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), in which children are overly fearful and distrustful of caretakers, and Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED), in which they are overly friendly and do not know the difference between caretakers and total strangers. In adulthood, those who have had attachment issues may be fearful, avoidant, anxious, or obsessive in relationships. Without proper intervention and support, these adults may develop sex or love addictions.

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Sex Trafficking Recovery

Individuals who have been trapped in sex trafficking schemes have dealt with significant emotional trauma and sexual abuse. Some individuals may not even realize they have been trafficked, and many get caught up quickly in a system they cannot easily escape. These experiences leave wounds that need to be tended with expert support, therapeutic intervention, safe relationships, and secure environments. It is not uncommon for those coming out of sex trafficking to struggle with addiction or mental health conditions as a result of their experiences, and those need to be treated as well so that individuals can find health and healing again.

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Toxic Relationships

Toxic relationships are emotionally traumatic and also tend to be physically and sexually abusive. A person may not realize that her relationship is toxic — only that it consists of extremes which turn out to be the result of abuse and manipulation. Those who fear abandonment may have a difficult time leaving their partner, even if they know their relationship is toxic. Abusive relationships can cause the abused person to experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions, even driving them to use alcohol and drugs to cope. They may also become used to unhealthy patterns and form improper attachments, leading to (or perpetuating) intimacy disorders.

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Recovery from Emotional Trauma at Willow House

At Willow House, we utilize a number of proven treatments and therapies to help women recover from emotional trauma and associated substance use or mental health conditions. Therapies like EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, psychodrama, and neurofeedback allow patients to work through trauma and experience greater peace in their lives. We use experiential therapies including expressive arts, equine, acupuncture, and a ropes challenge course to help women get back in touch with their bodies in healthy ways and learn to thrive again.

Another essential component of treatment at Willow House for Women is our exclusive Survivor’s Workshop. Using the pioneering work of Senior Fellow Pia Mellody, patients at Willow House examine their childhoods in a safe and nurturing environment. Through this work, patients discover the origins of their self-defeating behaviors, learn to release painful emotions, and heal themselves from the shame, neglect, or abandonment they have experienced in the past.

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Intensive Family Program

Innovative Experiential Therapy

12-Step Program Focus