The Genetic Footprint

Context may provoke fear and the best strategy for bringing these cues to light is a detailed questioning about the context of early traumatic experiences. Clinicians are usually well trained in eliciting painful information by developing a relationship of trust and by observing the client’s reactions to what their senses are picking up.

For example, a client who remarks on the unsympathetic tone of voice of the receptionist or a disturbing painting on the wall may be telling us that he or she has been triggered.

Responsibility for Clinician

This situation places a responsibility upon the clinician to bring their awareness to a new and heightened level and to stay “in the moment” with the client. It goes beyond empathy into a more scientific screening and understanding of what the client is saying, doing, thinking and remembering.

Working with highly vulnerable, sensitized clients would involve more careful attention to the healing process that is recommended and a full scope of knowledge about available treatments.

The variety of treatment modalities is expanding daily. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one type of counseling. Research shows it is the most effective type of counseling for PTSD.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure (PE) therapy are among the forms.

There is a similar kind of therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) that is used for PTSD. Also, medications have been shown to be effective. A type of drug known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which is also used for depression, is effective for PTSD.

Clinicians may recommend alternative and supplemental therapies and activities; Yoga, mindfulness training, group therapy art and animal-support therapies etc., are examples.

There is good news on the horizon thanks to the brain’s plasticity and innovative, therapy-based advances.

Since the early life deleterious epigenetic programming can be reversed, at least partly, by favorable psycho-social conditions later in life, use of self-soothing techniques such as meditation may be another promising therapeutic approach.

Such a possibility is evident from recent studies where intensive practice of mindfulness meditation resulted in alterations of histones as well as in decreased expression of histone genes and pro-inflammatory genes.

If it is possible to correct disrupted epigenetic patterns via specific epigenome-targeted therapeutic interventions, then it will be possible to prevent a variety of chronic diseases to extend the human health.

The client who is sensitized and is aroused by many kinds of sensory cues is a challenge for any clinician who will be more aware of their own behavior, the environment in which the therapy takes place and the behavior of the client when he or she is aroused by certain stimuli.

The knowledge that what we do as clinicians becomes part of our client’s genetic record is truly an awesome responsibility.


The Genetic Footprint

Margaret Altman, LCSW, MSW

Margaret Altman is a crisis intervention specialist and has intervened in many explosive situations within jails, emergency rooms, suicide prevention centers and psychiatric units. She is a featured writer on the Mad in America website and has more more than 35 years of experience as an LCSW in psychiatry, corrections and private practice. Her book, "Developing Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence" is on Amazon. Margaret currently focuses on issues of minority and marginalized populations in order to give them a voice in the mental health domain.


APA Reference
Altman, M. (2015). The Genetic Footprint. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 5 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 5 Oct 2015
Published on All rights reserved.