Surviving Childhood: An Introduction to the Impact of Trauma

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Lesson 1: Introduction to Childhood Trauma
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Introduction to Childhood Trauma

Traumatic experiences can have a devastating impact on a child, altering his or her physical, emotional, cognitive, and social development. In turn, the impact on the child has profound implications for his or her family, community and, ultimately, all of us. Caregivers, childcare providers, teachers, law enforcement, child protection workers, social workers, judges, nurses, pediatricians, and mental health service providers all will work with traumatized or maltreated children.

Now that we have reviewed some of the disheartening information, let's hear some good news. With treatment, the effects of childhood trauma can be alleviated. Early and aggressive treatment of traumatized children decreases risk for developing PTSD and other trauma-related problems seen later in life.

Treatments usually incorporate three elements:

  1. Review and recollection of the traumatic experience
  2. Information about the normal and expected processes of post-traumatic functioning
  3. Focus on specific symptoms

Despite the positive effects we know treatment has on trauma sufferers, the unfortunate reality is that most traumatized children do not get any help whatsoever. There is a dangerous belief among adults that children are "resilient" and can weather trauma naturally. Those children who do get services often have limited access and brief contacts. Early and sustained treatment for children who have suffered trauma is important if the long-term effects are to be avoided.

Typical Approaches

Individual Therapy: This is where the child has one-on-one contact with a clinician. Depending upon the training and the specific issues, the approach is usually a combination of the following interventions:
  • Psychoeducational
  • Cognitive-behavioral
  • Insight-oriented
  • Play
  • Trauma-focused
  • Pharmacotherapy
Group Therapy: In many cases, a traumatic event has been shared by several children (e.g., a school shooting or a hurricane). In these cases, group interventions have been used. In addition, individual trauma may be similar enough (e.g., victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence) that the clinician will recommend group treatments. Again, the focus of the group approach can include a combination of the following interventions.
  • Psychoeducational
  • Cognitive-behavioral
  • Family
  • Problem-focused

The better we can understand these children and the impact of traumatic experiences, the more compassionate and wise we can be in our interactions and our problem-solving.


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