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Trauma 

Trauma refers to a deeply distressing or disturbing experience that overwhelms a child or adolescent’s ability to cope. This can include experiences such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, accidents, or exposure to violence or natural disasters.

Trauma can have a significant impact on a child or adolescent mental and emotional well-being, leading to symptoms such as anxiety, depression, irritability, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, and behavior problems.

Treatment for trauma in children and adolescents typically involves therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or trauma-focused therapy. These therapies can help children and adolescents process their traumatic experiences, develop coping skills, and improve their mental and emotional well-being. 

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a mental health condition that can occur after someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, combat, sexual or physical assault, or other serious injuries.

 In children and adolescents, symptoms of PTSD can include recurring thoughts or memories of the traumatic event, nightmares, avoidance of things that remind them of the trauma, irritability or outbursts of anger, and feeling on edge or easily startled. PTSD in children and adolescents can have a significant impact on their daily life, including their relationships, school performance, and overall well-being. If a child or adolescent is showing symptoms of PTSD, it is important to seek help from one of PRI’s mental health professionals who specializes in treating trauma. 

Here are some specific warning signs that may indicate the need for a higher level of care for trauma in teens: 

Re-experiencing symptoms:  Teens who have experienced trauma may have flashbacks or intrusive thoughts related to the traumatic event. If your teen is experiencing re-experiencing symptoms that interfere with their daily life, they may need more intensive treatment. 

Avoidance behaviors: Teens who have experienced trauma may try to avoid people, places, or situations that remind them of the traumatic event. If your teen is engaging in avoidance behaviors that are interfering with their daily life, they may need more structured treatment. 

Self-harm or suicidal ideation: Trauma can lead to self-harm or suicidal ideation. If your teen is engaging in self-harm behaviors or expressing suicidal thoughts, they may need more intensive treatment. 

Negative changes in mood or thoughts: Trauma can lead to negative changes in mood or thoughts, such as depression, anxiety, or feelings of hopelessness. If your teen is experiencing these types of symptoms, they may need more comprehensive treatment that addresses their mental health as well as their trauma. 

Hyperarousal symptoms: Teens who have experienced trauma may feel constantly on edge, irritable, or have trouble sleeping. If your teen is experiencing hyperarousal symptoms that interfere with their daily life, they may need more structured treatment. 

Co-occurring mental health issues: Trauma can often be linked to other mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression. If your teen has co-occurring mental health issues, they may need more comprehensive treatment that addresses both issues simultaneously.

There are several effective therapies for trauma in children and adolescents. Here are some of the most common and effective therapies: 

  • Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT): TF-CBT is a structured therapy that focuses on helping children and adolescents process traumatic events, manage their symptoms, and develop coping skills. It includes elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy, play therapy, and parent training. 
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is a therapy that uses guided eye movements to help individuals process and desensitize traumatic memories. 
  • Play therapy: Play therapy involves the use of play activities to help children and adolescents express themselves, process their emotions, and learn coping skills. Art therapy 
  • Art therapy involves the use of art activities to help children and adolescents express themselves, process their emotions, and learn coping skills. 
  • Narrative exposure therapy (NET): NET is a therapy that helps individuals tell their traumatic stories in a structured and safe way, with the goal of reducing distress and promoting healing.  

When speaking to a teen who has experienced trauma, be supportive, empathetic, and understanding. You can say things like:

“I’m sorry this happened to you.” Acknowledge that the trauma the teen experienced was not their fault and that it’s understandable to feel upset or angry. 

“It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling.” Let the teen know that their feelings and emotions are valid and that it’s important to take the time to process what they have been through. 

“I’m here for you.” Let the teen know that you are there to support them and that they can come to you for help or support at any time. 

“You are not alone.” Let the teen know that there are others who have experienced similar traumas and that they don’t have to go through this alone. 

“Have you talked to a mental health professional about this?” Encourage the teen to seek professional help and let them know that it’s a sign of strength to ask for help when needed. 

It’s important to note that every child or adolescent is different and may require a unique combination of therapies that work best for them. It’s essential to consult with a licensed PRI mental health professional to determine the best course of treatment for a specific child or adolescent.

Do you have questions about trauma?​

Consult these questions to better understand and assist: