What Trafficking Survivors Need Most: Psychotherapy and Chiropractic

Alissa Thomas (not her real name and personal details are disguised), now 20, was trafficked on a regular basis from age 12 to age 19—by a family member. By the time the anti-trafficking organization Operation Underground Railroad rescued her, she was in massive physical and mental pain.

“I was humbled and shocked by how severe Thomas’s situation was,” says chiropractor Kristina Stitcher, who finds that the best results in helping to restore survivors to health come when chiropractors and mental health professionals collaborate. “Restoration after trafficking often requires healing both the mind and the body,” she insists.

“I hurt every moment of every day.”

Thomas’s physical symptoms included incapacitating knee pain and severe back pain. She was also enduring unending headaches, and she was on worrisome levels of pain medication. Stitcher could help with the physical pain.

“On her first visit,” remembers Stitcher, “her body language was closed off. She held her arms tightly across her chest and her head was tucked down with no eye contact. She spoke in a monotone.”

Stitcher asked her an opening question, “How can I help you?”

Thomas’s answer was succinct. “I hurt every moment of every day; I would love to just not hurt.”

After examining her new patient, Stitcher discovered that Thomas was up against a loss of normal neurological communication within her body and had a biomechanical problem of the pelvis: Her pelvis wasn’t moving symmetrically. Instead it was frozen on one side, causing changes to the surrounding muscles and joints and resulting in inward rotation of her knees and restricted motion and spasms of her lower back.

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Stitcher began a series of frequent chiropractic adjustments aimed at restoring motion as well as neural communication. By the third week Thomas began noticing she could walk longer distances without pain.

Even so, it was clear to Stitcher that Thomas needed more than chiropractic could provide—she needed the skills of a mental health professional to help her get beyond the flight or fight response that was exhausting her. “In Thomas’s case, it was as if she had put so much of her energy into survival mode that she was stuck there,” Stitcher observed.

She made sure mental health professionals were involved and that they worked together to help Thomas.

Thomas’s Progress

The combined mental health treatment and chiropractic care allowed Thomas to get off not only her pain medications but also her sleep medication. Today Thomas is getting her GED and is proud of how far she’s come. Her life is approaching normalcy.

A New Partnership

According to the American Chiropractic Association, chiropractors treat 35 million Americans each year. Stitcher would love to see more collaboration between chiropractors and mental health professionals. “We’re learning more and more about how much the brain controls and impacts the function of the body and how stress affects that function. Our two approaches overlap more than we have recognized in the past. As I see it, the future of healing is working together.”

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