Understanding Self-Blame: Why Do Victims of Abuse Blame Themselves?

Did you know that 7 to 8% of the population will experience post-traumatic stress syndrome at some point in their life? It’s important to remember that the trauma that causes this condition is never the victim’s fault. Unfortunately, one of the main symptoms of PTSD is self-blame.

This is troubling because self-blame can lead recovering victims down a dark mental health path — one that can lead individuals to self-harm. So why is it that victims of abusive situations blame themselves for the actions of others? In this article, we’ll help explain where this blame comes from and what you or your loved ones can do to address it. Let’s get started!

Where Does Self-Blame Come From?

It’s important to remember that self-blame isn’t always a bad thing. When we hurt others self-blame can make us acknowledge the hurt we’ve caused. From there we can learn from our mistakes and try to be more empathetic in the future. In this way, self-blame can make us more human.

Unfortunately, there’s a tendency for people suffering from middle to complex trauma to blame themselves for abuse. This is a problem because they often do it when they objectively were not responsible for it. This type of toxic self-blame can happen to any victim of trauma. However, it’s particularly prevalent for survivors of sexual and physical abuse.

Why is this? Well, in many of these cases the abuser is a loved one — a family member or a partner. Generally, these individuals are supposed to protect the victim. So, when they do the opposite, the blame tends to fall (incorrectly) on the victim instead. There is also the societal factor to consider.

As we will see, society often teaches victims of sexual abuse that their trauma was avoidable. So, self-blame related to trauma comes from a variety of different places. To understand in more detail let’s take a closer look at five common reasons why victims blame themselves.

Five Reasons Why Victims of Abuse Often Blame Themselves

The real reason why trauma victims self-blame isn’t always easy to find. In many cases, it can take months or years of trauma group therapy to find. However, some popular reasons are often cited. In this section, we’ll briefly dive into each of these.

1. Manipulation or Gaslighting From Partners

Many of the self-blame cases dealing with domestic abuse arise from instances of manipulation or gaslighting from the abusive partner. Often these individuals fail to take responsibility for their actions.

Instead, they will shift the blame onto the victims. Or, worse, they’ll convince the victim that the abuse isn’t even happening. This can be heightened when the abuser is considered nice by other people. This allows both the abuser and their peers, to downplay any of their actions. As a result, the victim blames the next most logical person: themselves.

2. Victim Blaming

Victim blaming is one of the plagues our society suffers in regards to sexual abuse trauma. This occurs when individuals blame the victim for their assault instead of the person that committed the assault. You’ve likely seen this type of blaming from family members, social media accounts, and even the media. Here are some of the common victim-blaming phrases you’ll hear:

  • “Why were they dressed like that?”
  • “Why were they drinking?”
  • “They shouldn’t have given mixed signals.”

It’s not hard to see why a victim would blame themselves after hear such awful comments. Unfortunately, when people hear that bad things happen to someone, their first instinct is to see the person as a bad individual. Indeed, a landmark psychological study seems to confirm this.

3. Toxic Self-Criticism

Toxic self-criticism is especially prevalent in childhood victims of trauma. This symptom occurs when individuals are unfairly blamed, or held to impossibly high standards.

This results in an internalized judgment that arises in the form of a negative voice. This negative voice tells the victim thing like “you’re bad” or you’re worthless”. The result is heightened self-blame and incredibly low self-esteem. When the victim’s standards are raised impossibly high, then it can even be debilitating.

4. Poor Self-Care

Victims of abuse often don’t take proper self-care measures after their trauma occurs. Often this is because they feel unworthy of any sort of care. Or, it’s because they’re forced to care for others and, as a result, don’t have time to care for themselves.

If left unchecked, then this lack of self-care can quickly turn into self-harm. In the victim’s mind, they often see themselves as deserving of punishment, even when they’re not.

5. Chronic Feelings of Anxiety, Guilt, and Shame

People who struggle with trauma and the self-blame that accompanies them often experience heightened emotional states. The most common emotions are also some of the most painful ones: anxiety, guilt, and shame. Typically, these emotions when the person is alone or not seeking therapy.

When isolated in your head, it’s easy to begin overthinking your trauma. This causes the chronic emotions to only get worse. If you want to learn more about the effect that self-blame has on the brain and emotions, then make sure to check out this article here.

Need Help Addressing Trauma? Contact Solara Mental Health

We hope this article helped you understand why victims of trauma often experience self-blame. Whether you suffer from PTSD yourself, or someone you love does, treatment is an essential part of healthy recovery. Unfortunately, finding a mental health treatment center that you can trust is often difficult.

However, if you live in the Southern California area, then look no further than Solara Mental Health. We believe in combining progressive psychotherapy with holistic life advice. This allows our patients to address the trauma in their lives while also learning healthy coping practices. If you’re ready to get the help you deserve for your PTSD, then make sure to get in touch with us today.

5 Important Complex PTSD Symptoms that You Shouldn’t Ignore

Post-traumatic stress disorder, otherwise known as PTSD, affects about 8 million people each year in the United States.

While you may have heard of PTSD, there is another type called complex PTSD, or C-PTSD.

But what is the difference between C-PTSD and PTSD? What are come complex PTSD symptoms and how do they overlap with PTSD?

In this article, you’ll learn more about C-PTSD and what symptoms you need to be aware of.

What is Complex PTSD?

To start, PTSD is a mental condition that arises due to intense traumatic events such as a car accident, a death, war, sexual trauma, or other similar instances. PTSD doesn’t discriminate and affects people at any age, even children.

Complex PTSD is a bit more involved. There are different symptoms and the duration of C-PTSD is longer, known as chronic trauma. It’s more likely to occur if the person experiences repeated trauma, such as domestic violence, neglect, sexual abuse, or any other trauma that seems inescapable.

This is why C-PTSD is stronger in people when the trauma occurs in childhood because children may be under the supervision of a parent or caregiver who is causing the trauma.

While the DSM-5 does not acknowledge C-PTSD as a complete mental disorder, it does agree that there are other symptoms that need to be recognized that may indicate a greater level of PTSD. However, it is included in the ICD-11.

Complex PTSD Symptoms

There are many symptoms of PTSD and not everyone will experience the same ones. Symptoms may appear a month or so after the event, but some could take longer. Some of these symptoms may include:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Guilt
  • Sweating
  • Feeling sick
  • Distrust of others
  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the traumatic event
  • Anxiety or hyper-arousal

While some or all of these symptoms are present in C-PTSD, there are additional symptoms that point to C-PTSD. Here’s a list of possible symptoms you might find in someone with C-PTSD.

1. Preoccupied With Abuser

The relationship between the person and their abuser is a toxic one, and it’s likely to remain that way.

A person with C-PTSD may be preoccupied with their abuser. This could mean having a distorted image of them, allowing them to have dominance or control over you, or possibly plotting revenge.

2. Consciousness and Detachment

Trauma actually changes the brain in areas like the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex. This can lead to a change in consciousness, meaning the person can actually forget the traumatic times.

It also includes feelings of detachment, in which you physically feel detached from your emotions. This type of detachment is called dissociation.

3. Difficulty Managing Emotions

The person may have difficulty managing their emotions. They may be prone to outbursts of anger, feelings of suicide, or extreme sadness. They may engage in self-destructive behaviors or isolate themselves from others.

4. Relationship Troubles

People with C-PTSD may find their relationships challenging, whether they’re in a new relationship or with family.

This is due to a lack of trust in people in general. The person may also search for someone to save them from their trauma or seek out a person similar to the abuser because they have no portrait of a healthy relationship.

5. Negative View of Self

Sadly, C-PTSD may result in a negative self-image. Because of the long-term trauma, those with C-PTSD do not view themselves in a positive, healthy light.

They likely have the same emotions similar to PTSD, but may have guilt, shame, feel helpless, or feel like they’re on a completely different planet than others. This makes it hard to connect with other people as well.

Remember, just as in PTSD, you may or may not have all of the symptoms associated with C-PTSD. It’s important to evaluate your symptoms and which ones appear and interfere with your life.

How is C-PTSD Diagnosed?

Because there’s no test for determining if someone has C-PTSD, it might be a little more difficult to pin down, especially since it’s newer to the mental-health world. However, your doctor can help you determine if there’s a diagnosis.

They may ask you to keep track of your symptoms and the severity of them. Then, the doctor may ask you about any traumatic events you’ve experienced and if you, or anyone in your family, have a history of mental health issues.

You may receive a diagnosis of PTSD, but if the trauma was chronic, they may diagnose you with C-PTSD.

Treatments and Management of C-PTSD

There are some treatments available for someone with C-PTSD, but it just depends on how severe the symptoms are and what symptoms are present.

A variety of medications are available to help control symptoms. Other therapies like cognitive processing therapy, holistic therapies, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing also may provide some relief.

Supporting Those With C-PTSD

C-PTSD is difficult to understand for those who’ve not experienced trauma. But it’s a serious condition that needs to be dealt with gently. They may seem like a different person or reject any good thing or thought you try to help them with.

Though it’s sad, this is a normal part of C-PTSD.

Support groups exist for those that suffer from C-PTSD. Encourage the person to get help or therapy, and learn as much as you can about C-PTSD.

C-PTSD: There is Hope

Knowing complex PTSD symptoms can be helpful in differentiating between PTSD and C-PTSD. Because it’s a serious condition finding help sooner rather than later may result in a better quality of life.

Is someone you love suffering from C-PTSD? Our team of experts can help. Contact us today to learn more about our services.

The Biological Effects of Trauma on the Brain

What exactly defines trauma? In essence, trauma is characterized by a life event that has left a lasting impression on your brain. But the difference is that this impression is not a positive one. It holds memories that are haunting, scarring and sometimes completely inescapable. 

When most people think of trauma they associate it with the likes of childhood abuse, physical abuse, assault, exposure to violence, and near-death experiences. While these experiences may result in traumatic impacts on the brain, trauma is not black and white. Outwardly, it does not look the same for everyone. But internally, the damage is done.

Learn more about the effects of trauma on the brain and understand how to come to terms with PTSD…

What Does Trauma Look Like?

The physical scars associated with traumatic events heal with time. But emotional wounds take far longer to heal, if ever.

The effects of trauma on the brain and your overall psyche have the power to stop your life dead in its tracks. The condition is widely known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can completely overtake every aspect of your life, changing the structure and overall function of the brain. 

PTSD is classified as a mental health condition and can develop after a recent traumatic event or after an event that took place decades ago. Generally, the trauma involves a sense of threat in terms of abuse, violence, pain, or near-death experience. 

PTSD is characterized by the recall of a traumatic event through flashbacks, nightmares, and emotional instability. Depression, severe anxiety, anger, aggression, hyper-arousal, and distressing thoughts are also very common. 

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The Anatomy of the Brain 

The human brain is comprised of three main areas: the brain stem, the limbic region, and the cortex. Each area of the brain is responsible for its own set of functions. Although, these three areas must work in unison to live out a normal day-to-day life with measured responses.

The brain stem is the first part of the brain that is developed in the womb, therefore it’s the ”oldest”. This region controls arousal and our automatic responses as humans, i.e. survival mode reactions.  

The limbic region evolves next and includes areas such as the amygdala and the hippocampus. It’s responsible for our expression, emotional reactions, decision-making and memory recall. 

Finally, the brain’s cortex develops last and is responsible for cognition and thinking. In essence, the cortex allows us to reflect, and concentrate.

So, how do these areas relate to traumatic events?

The Brain Stem and Amygdala 

Any perceived threat is registered in the most primitive parts of the brain – the brain stem. The amygdala is a small, almond-shaped structure found deep within the temporal lobe. It is triggered and our natural fight, flight or freeze reactions kick in. The amygdala also helps to activate the sympathetic nervous system which helps us deal with threats. 

The Hippocampus

After this, the hippocampus quickly processes information about the threat. With the support of the amygdala, memories associated with this traumatic event are then safely stored away. This is where memories are coded. Time and spatial contexts are added to memories and they are imprinted in our brains forever.

The Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC)

The pre-frontal cortex is located in the frontal lobe of the brain, just behind the forehead. It helps us to consciously process a threat after our survival mode has been triggered by the amygdala. The cortex helps us to associate feelings and emotions with traumatic events and helps us plan how we will respond. The cortex also has the ability to ”switch off” our survival mode responses after we have assessed there is no threat. In a nutshell, the PFC helps us determine the meaning or significance of specific events.

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Understanding The Effects of Trauma on the Brain 

When your brain detects a threat, the amygdala sends a multitude of signals to different parts of the brain. This stimulates the release of hormones such as adrenaline, and other substances like norepinephrine and glucose. If the stressful situation continues, signals are sent to the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. From here, the stress hormone, cortisol, is released into the body.  

Meanwhile, the pre-frontal cortex consciously assesses the situation, trying to deactivate the flight or fight response. In other words, it works overtime to try and keep you calm. 

But how do these responses work in the brains of those suffering from long-term PTSD? 

Studies have shown that people with PTSD have hyper-reactive amygdalas as well as an under-active pre-frontal cortex. In short, the amygdala reacts a little too strongly, and the PFC is hindered in its ability to keep you calm. 

1. Hyperarousal

With an overactive amygdala, your brain stimulates the release of excess norepinephrine. This can lead to hyper-arousal, hyper-vigilance, sleep disruption, insomnia, and constant edginess. Hyperarousal can be triggered by almost anything that resembles trauma or shock in those with PTSD.  

2. Anger and Impulsivity

An overactive amygdala means that those with PTSD are always on the alert. They are ”armed and ready” for quick action in the face of a perceived threat- even if there is none. This leads to impulsive behavior. In addition to this, your motor behavior is unregulated due to an underactive PFC. Ultimately, this leads to reactive anger which is difficult to control.  

3. Increased Fear and Negative Emotion

Most people suffering from PTSD will tell you that they are constantly hounded by negative thoughts and emotions. They may find it difficult to enjoy simple, day-to-day tasks or even feel regular emotions. This is a result of a hyperactive amygdala, which is over-communicating with the insula. This is an area of the brain responsible for emotional awareness. An underactive PFC also means you’re unable to regulate their emotions when needed.

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Treatments For Trauma

Some of the most successful treatments for those with PTSD include psychotherapies that focus on and enhance the capabilities of the pre-frontal cortex.

Mindfulness interventions or retreats hosted over a 10-12 week period are also known to decrease the hyperactivity of the amygdala. However, actively confronting your trauma is a long and slow process and takes a great amount of support and introspection. 

Ultimately, one of the best things a person can do is to find a mental health professional who can help them process and understand their trauma through therapy. 

Find the Help You Need with Solara Mental Health 

Now that you understand the effects of trauma on the brain a little better, allow Solara Mental Health to help you work through the trauma that is dictating your life. 

Based in San Diego, we offer well-versed health professionals who specialize in a range of disorders, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, psychotic disorders and more. Get in touch today and reclaim your life… 

LGBT Suicide Rates Drop with the Legalization of Same Sex Marriage

Being a teenager is hard, but being a teenager who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer in some other form or fashion is a whole over level of difficult. Among teenagers, LGBT suicide rates are more than three times higher than among their straight peers. But the good news is we’ve seen a significant drop in those suicide rates in the last four to five years.

Since the legalization of same-sex marriage, LGBT suicide rates have dropped by more than half, and overall teenage suicide rates have dropped several percentage points. Read on to learn more about this connection and how we can continue to work to keep our teens safe.

Suicide Rates Among the LGBTQ Community

Teenagers are some of the people at most risk of committing suicide, and it’s not hard to see why. Your teenage years are a tumultuous time when you’re coping with hormonal changes, identity crises, and more. According to a study that ran from 1999 to 2015, an average of 8.6 percent of teenagers attempts suicide every year.

But among LGBTQ youth, that number skyrockets. That same study reported that 28.5 percent of teenagers who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual attempted suicide each year. But that study took place before the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide in June 2015.

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Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage

Prior to the landmark 2015 ruling, thirty-five states had already legalized gay marriage. And, in fact, the study we mentioned looked at 32 of those 35 states and compared them to the states where same-sex marriage wasn’t legalized until the national ruling. The states that legalized same-sex marriage before the national ruling saw drops in suicide rates beginning when they made the change.

The case that made the difference was Obergefell v. Hodges, which was decided on June 26, 2015. Prior to that ruling, according to a Gallup poll, only 38 percent of same-sex couples were married. As of 2017, that number had risen to 61 percent.

Drop in Suicide Rates

Along with a rise in the number of married same-sex couples, the June 2015 ruling brought changes in the LGBTQ suicide rates. According to some research, the suicide rates of all teenagers dropped about 7 percent following that ruling. And among LGBTQ teens, suicide rates dropped by about 14 percent – a decline of nearly half.

This drop is significant especially given that suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States. And it is incontrovertibly tied to the legalization of same-sex marriage; for one thing, the drop in suicide rates continued for two years after the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. For another, the states that did not legalize same-sex marriage before the national ruling saw no drop in their suicide rates before 2015.

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Reasons Behind this Drop

There are a number of reasons that the legalization of same-sex marriage has led to a drop in LGBTQ teen suicide rates. For one thing, it helps decrease the stigma of identifying as something other than straight. The more teenagers see married same-sex couples, the less likely they are to bully a classmate for being interested in someone of the same sex.

But for those teens who do still experience bullying, legal same-sex marriage offers them hope. The reason why people commit suicide is that they can’t see any hope for their future being better than their present. If a teenager is being bullied in high school, at least they can hope that someday, they might be able to have a marriage and a better life.

How Many Teens Identify As LGBTQ

According to the Associated Press, as of 2017, 26,252 students identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. The study didn’t address transgender students, those who identify as asexual or genderqueer, or those who were questioning their sexuality. But based on that 26,252, let’s take a look at just how big an impact same-sex marriage had on our teenagers.

Prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage, more than 7,481 students who identified as LGBTQ attempted suicide every year. After the ruling, that number dropped to 3,675 students a year, meaning more than 3,800 more LGBTQ students lived every year. And with the overall drop in suicide rates among teenagers after the ruling, researchers estimate that legal same-sex marriage may save more than 134,000 lives every single year.

Steps We Can Still Take

While the legalization of same-sex marriage was a crucial step, we still have more than 3,500 LGBTQ teens attempting suicide each year. One great way to help drop those numbers even further is to let any teenagers in your life know they have a safe space with you. Encourage them to support the LGBTQ people in their lives, too; just having someone in their court can make a literal life and death difference.

We also need to take steps to support trans students, especially trans women of color. Trans students should be allowed to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their identified gender, and teachers should use their correct gender pronouns in class. These small steps can go a long way towards validating these students’ identities and giving them hope.

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How to Talk About Suicide

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, the most important step is to reach out and get help. If you are thinking about hurting or killing yourself, call the Trevor Project hotline at 1-866-488-7386. They provide suicide crisis counseling for LGBTQ people in a safe, judgment-free way.

If you are worried someone you know may be thinking of killing themselves, talk to them and let a trusted adult in their lives know you’re worried. Tell the person you’re worried, ask how they’re feeling, and let them know they aren’t alone and that they have your support. And if you believe they are in imminent danger, encourage them to call the Trevor Project hotline, or call 911 yourself.

Learn More About LGBT Suicide Rates

LGBT suicide rates have dropped exponentially since the legalization of same-sex marriage. Teens now feel less outcast and have hope for a better adulthood now that same-sex marriage is legal. And remember, if you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, reach out and get help.

If you’re struggling with suicidality or issues dealing with your sexuality, reach out to us at Solar Mental Health. We have in-residence and intensive outpatient treatment programs to help you get the expert care to get back to full health. Contact us today and discover how we can help.

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How To Heal Your Inner Child In Seven Steps

Today, self-care is more frequently discussed than ever before- and for good reason. Healthcare providers and therapists alike are sharing ways to reduce calm, alleviate anxiety, and make the present moment as peaceful as possible.

Yet, what do you do when your fears, trauma, and hurt run far deeper than the current events you’re experiencing? How can you initiate healing when it’s your inner child that’s screaming out for love, acceptance, and comfort?

Learning how to face the past without letting it control your present and future can be a challenging step to take, but it is possible. Today, we’re sharing seven ways you can combat the issue that cost you your innocence and start rebuilding the life you deserve.

1. Acknowledge Your Inner Child

Before you can start down the path toward restoration, you must acknowledge that your inner child exists. Though it might feel silly at first, talk to him or her if they were right beside you. 

Giving this person a real identity can help you work through the issues you faced together. Start by speaking statements of affirmation such as “I love you” and “I see you” in the mirror, or even visualize saying this to your younger, wounded self. 

You might find it easier to communicate these feelings to your past self through journaling. If this is the case, write letters to your inner child that cover the same sentiments. The goal is to give that child the feelings of validation and affirmation that were absent for so long. 

2. Validate What Happened

Pushing issues down or shoving them under the rug will only work for so long. If you’ve suffered abuse, neglect, or any form of trauma as a child, it’s necessary to be realistic about what happened.

With your inner child beside you, take the time to understand what happened fully. This might mean going over the events in detail, or it might mean revisiting a persistent feeling of shame or guilt. As such, it’s best to complete this step with a trained specialist who can offer coping techniques as you take that painful trip down memory lane.

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3. Identify The Form Of Neglect You Experienced

Even children who grew up in an idyllic environment can have wounds that originated decades ago. After you’ve identified a specific area of hurt, consider the bigger picture surrounding that event or series of events.

At the core of much trauma lies some form of neglect. This can range from a lack of love to a lack of protection, and anything in between. You might have wished you had more resources, more guidance, or more freedom. Allow yourself to feel that void again, and recognize it for what it is.

4. Embrace Your Emotions

Not all inner child work will bring up feelings of resentment or anger, though some might. For instance, you may feel remorse at your parents or furious at a friend or family member. Rather than trying to move past those emotions, go ahead and sit with them. 

This might mean experiencing rage, sadness, emptiness or embarrassment all over again. Talk to a therapist as these emotions travel up to the surface. Often, the only way to move past them and find true healing is to face them head-first. 

That said, be easy on yourself. You might not work through everything in one day or one visit, and that’s OK. Give yourself space and time to process the journey. Take breaks and seek support and guidance from trusted friends, counselors, and coaches.

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5. Identify Current Manifestations of Past Hurts

Do you find yourself engaging in self-sabotaging patterns that stem from past childhood hurts? For instance, if you felt abandoned when you were younger, you might now engage in toxic relationships with partners you know will abandon you down the road. 

Or, you might project emotions of distrust and suspicion on people who genuinely want to be in your life, afraid to let them get too close for fear that you’ll wind up alone again. Whatever the way these past hurts manifest themselves today, it’s important to be honest with yourself and identify them. Acknowledgment is the first step toward moving forward and making the shift toward healthier habits.

6. Take Steps to Fill the Gap

When you’re younger, you fall victim to your circumstances because you are unable to rise against them. As an adult, you can take proactive steps to provide for yourself the things you wish you’d had as a child. 

For instance, if you were in a cycle of poverty in your youth, you can take steps to improve your current financial outlook. Partner with an expert who can teach you how to budget, save for the future, and maximize your income. Or, if you felt neglected and invisible as a child, seek relationships with people who cherish their time with you and make time to keep those friendships alive.

In other words, give yourself what you wish your parents or guardians would have given you years ago and allow yourself to enjoy the freedom that comes with that reward.

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7. Mend the Hurt By Helping Others

Research shows that child abuse, neglect and mistreatment is a global issue, affecting millions of children each year. While you can’t go back in time and change your past, there are plenty of ways you can help change the future for someone who’s now in your shoes. 

From volunteering at a children’s home to serving meals at a homeless shelter, look for opportunities in your community where you can give back, especially if it means making a difference in the life of a young boy or girl. Even just lending a listening, empathetic ear to a friend or acquaintance in need can be your form of service. 

Understand that at first, these kinds of interactions might be triggering for you if they remind you of past abuse. However, over time, you should find that altruism and healing go hand-in-hand.

Heal and Release Your Inner Child

You’ve heard it before, but it’s time to believe it. Your past doesn’t define you.

However hurt your inner child might feel, there are resources available to help you address and work through that pain. 

If you’ve been abusing drugs or alcohol to help self-treat the pain, we’re here to show you a better way.

We’re an internationally accredited and licensed rehabilitation facility dedicated to providing expert medical and clinical care to our patients. Call now to speak to an addiction treatment specialist and let’s take this next step forward together.