What We Treat


Addiction: A pathological relationship with a mood altering experience that has life damaging consequences. In recent years, The American Society of Addiction Medicine changed its definition of addiction to “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Addiction affects neurotransmitters and interaction within reward structures of the brain…” The definition continues for several paragraphs naming parts of the brain, their purpose, and how the healthy functioning of the brain hijack and negatively impacts brain connectivity and neural pathways when repeated consumption of alcohol, drugs, food, sex and more turn craving into addiction.

Anxiety: A multi-system response to a perceived threat or danger. It reflects a combination of biochemical changes in the body, the individual’s personal history or memory, and the social situation. Anxiety can also involve ruminating about the future for which we have no control. Anxiety becomes disordered when it is excessive and/or unrealistic and interferes in healthy daily life functioning.

Attachment Failure: When a parent/infant relationship does not form normal and healthy bonding wherein the infant does not experience the primary caregiver (usually mother) as safe and consistent in nurturing and providing basic human needs. The attachment relationship forms in early childhood and results in a child developing a relationship template that dictates dynamics in future adult relationships. The first three (3) years of a human’s life are critical because it is the time period in which the brain grows most rapidly and attachment failure can occur at this time when a child is completely dependent on others to survive. Children who are repeatedly shamed verbally, emotionally, physically and/or intellectually will develop traumatic shame. This shame can lead to behaviors, which have negative consequences such as addictions or other mental health conditions. Disruption of the attachment system is trauma.

Co-dependency: A state resulting from trauma in which one’s good intention to help, results in harm for oneself and others. Other definitions include: filling one’s needs externally instead of internally, when one fills everyone else’s bucket and then expects their bucket to be filled, “A pattern of painful dependence on compulsive behaviors and on approval from others in an attempt to find safety, self-worth, and identity.” (Melody, Pia), and a loss of personal identity in a process of painful external validation. Co-dependent traits may include enabling, rescuing, care taking, physical symptoms, and more.

Complex PTSD: When a person experiences chronic trauma that continues or repeats for months or years at a time. Involves a real or perceived sense of threat and extreme helplessness. Particularly relevant to one who experiences an accumulation of trauma across the developmental years.

Depression: A mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and may include loss of motivation, energy, interest in activities, sleep disturbance, fatigue, and a sense of worthlessness and/or hopelessness.

Enmeshment: When an individual in a relationship has no clear boundaries and over-concern for others leads to a loss of autonomous development.

Eroticized Rage: The anger that is underneath sexual behavior that is considered socially unacceptable.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): May develop after a person is exposed to one or more traumatic events wherein one has a real or perceived threat to their life and/or safety or the life and/or safety of someone else. The diagnosis may be given when a group of symptoms, such as disturbing recurring flashbacks, avoidance or numbing of memories of the event, nightmares, dissociation, hyper vigilance and hyper arousal, continue for more than a month after the occurrence of a traumatic event.

Relationship Addiction: A relationship that mistakes romance for love, and intensity for intimacy. Relationship addiction is paradoxical and is characterized by a feeling of having no way out. It is a desire to get close to someone, but often ending up with a person whose problems make closeness impossible.

Relationship addicts crave unconditional love, but live in constant fear of abandonment. Drowning in the whirlpool of their own emotions, they turn to rescuers who are emotionally unavailable and cannot swim. Relationship addiction is like returning to an empty well trying to quench a thirst.

Sexual Addiction: A disorder of the reward system of the brain characterized by compulsive, persistent and increased sexual thoughts and behaviors that result in negative consequences as well as extreme difficulty in stopping the behaviors.

Trauma: Trauma can be any experience that results in an overwhelming emotional response to a real or perceived threat to one’s life and/or safety or the life and or safety of someone else. Anyone who is repeatedly exposed to frightening experiences and is unable, for whatever reason, to process the experience, receive understanding or be provided comfort for their fears can be wired for extremes. Trauma leaves the individual either over-reacting or under-reacting to the experience.

Trauma Reactions: Physiological and/or psychological alarm reactions from unresolved trauma experiences. Clinical patterns can include: Flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, insomnia, triggered associations, troubling dreams, physical symptoms, hyper vigilance, living in extremes, manic-depressive cycles, and borderline personality.

Traumatic Grief: A debilitating form of grief characterized by extreme separation anxiety and traumatic distress. Symptoms may include preoccupation with the deceased, the events of his/her death, shock, disbelief, numbness, detachment, purposelessness, and suicidal ideation.

Traumatic Shame: When an individual incurs repetitive verbal, emotional, intellectual, mental shaming in childhood consistently over a period of time, those experiences may represent trauma. When this occurs the relentless shaming is defined as traumatic shame.

This list is not exhaustive as there are many sub types of the above as well as many addictions that are not mentioned singularly on the list.

What is most important is these are all treatable! You are not your disease! The issues we treat are symptoms of underlying and sometimes unidentified experiences that drive the unhealthy behaviors.

©Nancy Jarrell O’Donnell 2020