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33 years as a family-systems and trauma-recovery therapist suggests to me that typical survivors of early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse (trauma) inherit up to six psychological injuries from wounded, unaware caregivers: personality fragmenting, excessive shame, guilts, fears, reality distortions, trust difficulties, and trouble feeling, empathizing, and bonding. Until these wounds are identified, accepted, and reduced, they cause a wide range of personal and social problems, and promote illness and premature death. They also are apt to pass on to the next generation. 

   It appears to me that many or most "mental health disorders" are symptoms of these wounds. If this is true, then much mental-health assessment and treatment is focused on symptom relief, not wound-reduction.

   I welcome your feedback on these premises. 

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I couldn't agree more Peter! I'm training with Dr. Bruce Perry on how to create a functional neurological brain map to actually assess developmental delays, rather than just labeling symptoms.  When we think about mental illness as brain trauma, it changes the way we work.

One particular example comes to mind, where I see so many children diagnosed with ADHD and Conduct Disorder without any history being considered.  The diagnosis is based primarily on apparent behavioral symptoms.  And so rather than seeing complex developmental trauma with a distressed stress response system, we see ADHD and Oppositional Disorder, and so on.  And the prescriptive consequences are serious.

Robbyn Peters Bennett, LMHC

I have access to a number of people in prison that I know could benefit from this .. how would you suggest the best way to share with them.. (they do not have access to the internet) .. I would love ideas .. 


I have worked in the correctional field for many years and one of the things that always got me was how many people in prison were abused or neglected as children. They committed some horrible crimes, usually before the age of 21, but by the age of 30 to 35 were totally different people. One of the things that got me the most was how almost all of them wanted to get out and go into working with at risk kids so they could not have to follow the path they did. Everything in your statement is so very true and it is one of the reasons I am working so hard to try and make legislators understand that we need to focus on rehabilitation not incarceration especially for those sentenced under the age of 25. In Washington State we spend $46,000 a year housing someone in prison, that money could so be better spent on prevention, family assistance and education.  

I've found consistently that troubled adults identify with having an angry child, a shamed child, a guilty child, a lost/abandoned child, a lonely child, a hurt child, and several others of various developmental ages. These kids often live in the past, believing it's still the "bad old days." Each responds to compoassionate attention and nurturing using "inner family-systems (IFS) therapy. See what you think of this:  

I agree wholeheartedly, Loren. Criminal acts usually indicate inheritance of up to six psychological "wounds" from unaware parents who themselves inherited wounds and were unable to nuryure well. Crime (wound) Prevention starts with helping parents-to-be assess for such wounds before conceiving kids, and motivating them to reduce their wounds. In my experience, the public at large - and most mental-health pros and policy makers - are unaware of this toxic cycle and what it means personally and socially. Thaty's why my nonprofit  educational Web site and related videos exist.  

   My clinical experience is that "Grown Wounded Children" (GWCs) often aren't motivated to admit their wounds and reduce them until "hitting bottom" in some way. That most commonly happens in mid-life. Incarceration may help some GWCs to hit bottom, depending on many variables. The wounds are really a family-wide problem, not an individual one, so effective rehab really needs to include family therapy.

If you're interested in wound-prevention (as I am), see this array of practical options.

I welcome your feedback, and applaud your work!

My work with adult victims of childhood trauma supports your idea.  Recent trauma and re-traumatization most always has a basis in childhood, thus, adult reactions to trauma remain the responses of the "hurt child" within.  One important result for me as a clinical supervisor is helping our staff to evaluate clients first based on what we know of their trauma history rather than conceptualizing a "diagnosis."  It is amazing how one's approach in therapy changes when we think of persons as "hurting" rather than "broken."


Cris Cannon, D. Min., LPC-MHSP, ACS


Hi Cris - thanks for your response. I salute and support your opinion and supervisory mission. Two tools I've come to use in assessing therapy clients for inherited psychological wounds are (1) common behavioral traits of "Grown Wounded Children" (GWCs), and (2) common traits of family-tree dysfunction. I'd value your reaction to each of these. Incidentally, In doing "internal family systems (IFS) therapy" for 22 years, I now believe most people have a group of inner kids, not just the "Hurt Child."  

I find the GWC concept helpful in conceptualizing for adults the roots of their pain, which, because they are adults, is often incomprehensible to them.  You talk about the group of inner kids, which is much the same idea I have used as the "life stages of the hurt child" which in fact, becomes a family of hurt kids in the life of an individual . . .

Hi Loren - First, get grounded in the concepts yourself by taking online "Lesson 1"and experiencing your own reactions. Then how about using brief non-technical handouts? You're welcome to print (and/or simplify) any pages in my ad-free website. If you wish, I can suggest key pages to print., Another option is to design and give an elementary class with flipcharts to explain the key concepts. Ideally, such a class would have a kniowledgeable family-systems therapist as a consultant.

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