Therapist recommendation for spouse triggered by baby's crying?

TL;DR, seeking any sort of therapist who can help a parent with sensory issues stemming from childhood trauma. OT, talk therapist, whoever. Ideally in-person in the East Bay.

CW: description of self-harm. 

My husband is extremely triggered by our 15mo’s crying. IMO it's a normal amount of crying, she gets momentarily upset over random things like not being allowed to dig through trash, and when she's tired/hungry. Can usually be fixed with cuddles, which husband is unable to provide when he's triggered. She has a 30-min uncontrollable tantrum about once a month, usually when she has a short nap at daycare.

He knows the trigger from his own childhood trauma, and he never ever takes it out on the baby or on me. He almost always leaves before he explodes. Tonight was actually the first time I saw him explode, and we've been together for 15 years. He's been punching himself in the face when he's overwhelmed by the noise, and headphones don't help much. Loop earplugs were recommended to us, but he says they don't work well. He's constantly sporting bruises around his eyes and he knows this can't go on forever. (He's been borrowing my makeup for Zoom calls at work...)

He's been to talk therapy before, which really helped him unpack a lot of childhood things. He's still working through it and I know he's trying his best, but he needs immediate help with the sensory issues. He's done some research already but the therapists he's found have no availability. I wasn't sure if there was some kind of triaging system for someone who's actively hurting themselves (although not seriously). Any advice would be appreciated. 

Parent Replies

Parents, want to reply to this question? Sign in to post.

You may know this already on some level, but your spouse is well outside the range of normal on this and until he is much more solidly within the range, I am very uncomfortable with the idea of the three of you cohabitating. I do not think this is an issue that talk therapy alone could address. (I am not a doctor so I will leave it at that.) If you were my friend telling me this, I would advise you to take the baby and leave. You're already single-parenting...

Look into EMDR therapy. It’s designed to work on past trauma And has proven very successful in the past. You’d need to find someone certified to do this. 
Rather than take steps to desert your partner, try this first.

good luck!

I'm so sorry your family is going through this.

IMO, the following methodologies will go to the heart of the complex trauma & address trigger-symptoms of dysregulaion. 

For sensory issues along with trauma, Google SSP-The SAFE & Sound Protocol.  There are providers nationwide. It's based on polyvagal theory , the science of safety. Settles the nervous system again. 

Integration with a trauma-informed & scientifically validated methodology of EMDR (Eye-movement desensitization & Reprocessing) or IFS (Internal Family Systems) are cutting edge for serious trauma.

I'm not a therapist & learned about these in my own work of recovery. Proceed with care, because if there are serious attachment & abandonment issues there, there are "parts" that hold agenda with unresolved needs & they may become activated by separation from loved ones when they're in dire need & it may deepen their sense of inner isolation if they aren't feeling validated. In essence they're child parts (exiles) who are still stuck in the past & need compassion &as they hold so much distress & have other parts in the system that protect them from feeling all that pain again- the self-harm parts are firefighters in the system to manage the alarm bells. All parts have good intentions & are doing the only thing they know how until higher self shows them how.

There's hope. 

Take care.

Medication can also help.  Fluoxetine (Prozac) is the first line treatment for PTSD -- it can do wonders sometimes.

Hi there, this is a very sad and painful thing to hear. My partner had a really hard time (though not this extreme) with the transition to parenting, being startled excessively by loud noises, and managing aggression. It has taken years for his reactions to be modulated, so I know it may be hard to find a quick fix. One recommendation I have is to explore complex-PTSD to understand the trauma he's been through. 
I've also heard that EMDR can help. 
 

I hope you get support, too. This is a difficult time for you, as a new parent and a partner, so you deserve your difficulties to be acknowledged, too. 

Hi, I feel compelled to share my experience here. Becoming a parent has been a trigger fest for me as well. It brought back memories of my own traumatic and abusive childhood and there’s very little space to share my experience without fear of judgement from other parents. I turned to EMDR therapy this fall. My son is 18 months. He was an easy baby, rarely cried, but the toddler tantrums are stressful. My diagnosis of complex PTSD was a big relief. EMDR has been a game changer for me and how I respond now to triggers/stress. My husband has been super supportive and I’m so thankful. My therapist was able to talk to him as well about the EMDR process and how he could be supportive. I use Evergreen Counseling and they got me in pretty quickly as I was in so much pain! 

The type of therapy that has been clinically proven to help with distress tolerance and self-harm is called dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). This is definitely an issue that talk therapy can address! Usually DBT is done in a group setting, with an individual and sometimes a family component as well. I can understand why self-harm seems scary to people who don’t understand why someone engages in it, but it’s entirely self-directed and a maladaptation to inner turmoil and pain. People can learn the skills to stop the behavior and redirect their thought processes. Many groups are meeting online now, so I wish you the best of luck!

Not a doctor, this is all my anonymous opinion. I've been dealing with something similar since I was a teenager but which definitely got more intense when I became a parent. While I don't have a magic bullet, it may be worth it to look into an OCD diagnosis which could then be treated with medication until behavioral interventions can be more effective. (I also got some benefit from the book Brain Lock, available in a variety of formats.) In the meantime, as harm reduction, can he find a less destructive/visible way act out his impulses? I've had some success with squeezing an ice cube in my hand, which doesn't cause any lasting effects but which still hurts like hell right up until you stop.

Self harm, much like parenting, is extremely complicated, and nobody's journey is exactly the same. I'm sorry the three of you are going through this and I hope you find all the strength and resources you need to come out on the other side.