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Addiction Campuses Treehouse with Vinnie Strumolo: Trauma and Addiction

Treehouse_HZ_caJoin trauma and addiction expert Vinnie Strumolo, CEO of The Treehouse, in Dallas Texas on Mental Health News Radio. Vinnie talks to us about trauma and how it relates to addiction. Many people turn to addiction as a coping mechanism after facing trauma such as physical/sexual abuse, neglect or even a traffic accident. If left unresolved, these issues can haunt the victim for the rest of their life. Vinn


Vinnie tell us about the new expansion at The Treehouse? Tell us a little about your background.

It’s a new 8,000 square foot building that will house 40 additional treatment beds. We can now house 100 clients in long-term, sustainable recovery. The new building has several modifications and adjustments to make sure anyone with physical needs such as wheelchairs or specialized mobility equipment are comfortable. It has a new state of the art media room and dining area with a drop down screen, projector and sound system. We can also use it for dancing or yoga or other types of special meetings. It’s right next to the basketball court and fishing pond and a beautiful space. We are very proud of it.


You have incorporated recreational animal therapy into your curriculum. How is that effective for your therapists?

The recreational animal therapy helps us identify patterns a person may have. For example, one person may run to the biggest, fastest horse they see, where another is maybe more shy and asks questions. It’s a very valuable tool not only as a therapy for our clients, but also for our therapists. They are able to retain that data and learn more about the clients they see.

Explain for us how trauma can affect the beginning of someone’s addiction.

The short answer is that substances help individuals to ground themselves in an unhealthy way by numbing themselves from the painful memories. The longer answer involves assessing someone’s symptoms and past trauma history. Someone suffering from a single event trauma vs. a multiple event trauma handles the symptoms very differently. Although the symptoms may be similar, the defense mechanism may be dissociating, or more simply, detaching from the present situation.

How do you explain someone who is stuck in the past reliving the events that they have a future ahead of them?

You wouldn’t be able to at this point. It would be like trying to explain how easy riding a bike is to someone who just fell several times and has become frustrated. That’s one of the many reasons I developed Resolution Focused Therapy (RFT). The beginning phase is explaining to clients how substances have become unhealthy and how important it is to establish a healthy ground in order to begin processing the trauma. Experienced therapists can try to assure a client about the future by sharing how they have worked with many clients suffering from trauma and how many have resolved the trauma and moved on to a fulfilling life.

You talk a lot about Should Haves, Could Haves, and Would Haves: How do these play a role in contributing to addiction?

These are distorted belief systems we all suffer from in our lives. Most people live with guilt or shame about things they felt they did and now regret doing them. Most people do handle this burden and probably suffer from some form of depression or anxiety or just plain unhappiness in life. The remaining people do their own processing and do find a balance and happiness in their lives. Unfortunately trauma victims take this to another level of hurt. They will punish themselves most times for things they felt they could have, or would have, or should have done differently in their pasts. These regrets are distorted beliefs that the outcomes were their faults or that they are “damaged goods”. In addition, if a trauma victim has now turned to substances for relief, they further damage themselves by putting themselves in harm’s way to be re-traumatized. To work with this addiction population, a therapist needs to have extensive experience in trauma work to help these clients work through the maze of symptoms and behaviors that they present with.

When trauma goes unresolved, explain how more problems can develop the longer you wait to resolve it.

In my experience, unresolved trauma leads to further complications in people’s lives. It can manifest itself with an array of symptoms and dysfunctional behaviors. Symptoms and behaviors such as depression, anxiety, panic, nightmares, cutting, suicide, aggression, abusing others, domestic violence, the list goes on and on. Think of an onion and the core being the trauma. The longer trauma goes unresolved, the more layers of problems develop. Pretty soon, victims are lost in a maze of symptoms and in life itself. It takes a skilled therapist to differentiate between the problem being addiction of the addiction being the symptom of a deeper problem – trauma.


You use the example of Forrest Gump often. Explain how the characters of Jenny and Lt. Dan show us 2 different methods of dealing with trauma.

I use numerous movies when doing client trauma groups and also for training therapists to work with trauma clients. Forrest Gump is one of my favorites to use. Let me break the characters down. Jenny was sexually abused by her father. What’s common among survivors of childhood sexual abuse is the feeling that they did something wrong or a “loved one” would not have hurt them. Many times they feel they are “damaged goods”. Jenny appears to have that thought process and begins her adult life abusing drugs and alcohol to deal with the pain. She is often suicidal and comes close to killing herself in one scene. What I define this as is a disconnection from the memory of the trauma and her current affect (feelings). Instead of her emotional reactivity being aimed at the father for the abuse, she aims it at herself for playing a part in its cause (distorting) and continued to punish herself until the walk and rock scene with Forrest. She just happens to walk by her old house – coincidence? And suddenly a burst of emotions comes flooding out and she throws rocks at the house until she collapses crying. Hence her current emotions are once again lined up with the past trauma. From this point forward she appears at peace with herself. The next time you see her is when Forrest meets his son. She looks healthy and is working as a waitress. Of course, this process of reconnection does not always happen so conveniently, but the movie does capture the essence of the trauma and its impact on Jenny. Then there’s Lt. Dan – His condition depicts the trauma of war. Although a totally different traumatic experience than Jenny, he suffers many of the same symptoms. The disconnect here is when he blames Forrest for his survival and paralysis. He states that it was his destiny to die in the war like his ancestors. The use of the word destiny evokes a spiritual or religious belief in fate. He continued to aim all his hostility at Forrest when his anger was at God for not allowing him to die. This re-connect of his past trauma and current effect happens in the crow’s nest of the shrimping boat during the hurricane. All his emotional anger is aimed at God and not Forrest. The next day you see him at peace when he sort of thanks Forrest and jumps into the ocean for a swim.


Mr. Vincent Strumolo has been working in the area of trauma and addictions for over twenty five years. He is currently the Chief Executive Officer at the Addiction Campuses Texas facility and was formerly the Clinical Director at New Life and Life Changes Addiction Treatment facilities in Florida and The Greenhouse Treatment Center for addictions in Texas. He has consulted on and developed clinical programs that are “Real Time” and data driven. He designs clinical systems, performance improvement programs, utilization management programs, and continuing education programs. Mr. Strumolo has specialized in the treatment of trauma. He has gained extensive training through his experiences as a licensed therapist, crisis intervention therapist on the mobile crisis response team in Broward County and as a clinician.

He has been a forward thinker in the field of post traumatic stress and has developed a framework for therapy called Resolution Focused Therapy (RFT). RFT is an integrated and systemic approach to treating trauma and unresolved issues in life. Mr. Strumolo has been active in developing a comprehensive tracking, utilization management, and performance improvement program for the RFT system of care. This comprehensive system of care won recognition from Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) when his previous employer received the 2001 Ernest A. Codman Award for performance improvement in behavioral healthcare. He has also co-authored a book chapter “A Non-traditional Treatment of Youth with Conduct Disorders” which was published in 1998 (Carolina Academic Press). Mr. Strumolo has performed workshops at many national and international Conferences.


Abuse, abuse recovery, addiction, addictions, anxiety, authentic life, behavioral health, community, coping skills, current events, de-stigmatizing mental health, depression, destigmatize mental health, destigmatizing mental health, emotional abuse, empath, healing, healing life, healing lifestyle, hope, Kristin Sunanta Walker, life skills, mental health, mental health awareness, mental illness, narcissistic abuse, narcissistic abuse recovery, overall health, psychology, PTSD, recovery, self-care, suicide, suicide prevention, trauma, Trauma recovery, victim, victims, wellness


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