Bethany Hall is a former pediatric nurse advocating for proper training and education in childhood trauma. Through her platform Healing Connection, she supports children and adolescents who have experienced childhood trauma by raising community awareness. Healing Connection provides online or in-person support and training for parents, guardians, educators, social workers and caretakers.
“We are able to identify the needs of children suffering from trauma, including complex developmental trauma (CDT), the most severe and detrimental form of trauma, caused during a child’s first three years of life,” Hall said.
Grand Rapids Magazine: What inspired you to start Healing Connection?
Bethany Hall: As a member of the greater medical community and as an adoptive mother, I look back and realize how much I didn’t know, how much I wasn’t taught in my medical training or in the courses we took with our adoption agency. I have witnessed how the lack of knowledge in this area can lead to poor outcomes both in the medical field and in families, and conversely, the great healing that can come with knowledge.
GRM: When did you discover the need for Healing Connection?
BH: As a nurse practitioner in the emergency department, I had a front-row seat to the sheer volume of children and adolescents regularly experiencing a mental health crisis, as well as the significant gaps in access to care and trauma-competent caregivers. As an adoptive mother, I was raising my daughter the way that I was raised, and it wasn’t working well. It was then that I began devoting myself to the study of trauma and how it affects children across their lifetime.
“I have witnessed how the lack of knowledge in this area can lead to poor outcomes both in the medical field and in families, and conversely, the great healing that can come with knowledge.”
GRM: What are some of the outcomes that stem from childhood-related traumas?
BH: Childhood trauma can cause significant physical changes — the brains of these children are actually smaller in mass and have a lack of critical development of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain involved in regulating emotions, language, cognition and abstract thought. Failure to attach to a primary caregiver can have a lifelong effect on future relationships, self-regulation, cognition and learning, self-concept and future orientation. Finally, there are many long-term health consequences as evidenced by the Adverse Childhood Experiences study, such as increased high-risk behaviors, chronic illnesses, cancer and even premature death.
GRM: What are the two most likely behaviors that lead to a CDT diagnosis?
BH: CDT often goes undiagnosed or is misdiagnosed as other mental health disorders such as bipolar depression, ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder, especially in younger children. It should be evaluated for children that have difficulty regulating or controlling behavior, engaging in risky behaviors or showing persistent difficulty in his/her relationship with others. They may also have difficulty regulating bodily states and emotions, including problems with sleep, eating, sensory processing, and/or difficulties with regulating or identifying/expressing feelings.
GRM: What are some of the methods and treatment options you recommend for children that have experienced CDT?
BH: One of the most important things that we can do is routine screening, providing early detection and early intervention because young children’s brains are still very neuroplastic, meaning they can be “rewired” if we intervene early enough.
GRM: Have you had success in mitigating the effects of long-term outcomes such as chronic and acute trauma?
BH: A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that providing parenting education, mental health counseling, social service referrals or social support can reduce the impact of trauma on child behavioral/mental health problems and improve the parent-child relationship for children aged 0-5 years. In my years of working in this field, I have repeatedly seen the transformation and healing that occurs as a result of these interventions.
GRM: How can the community offer its support and become educated?
BH: Raising community awareness is key, and it starts with individuals becoming educated and being agents of change in their own spheres of influence.
This story can be found in the April 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox each month, subscribe here.