Childhood Traumatic Events and the Role of Psychology in Adolescent Adjustment

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Childhood Traumatic Events and the Role of Psychology in Adolescent Adjustment

It is an unfortunate fact that many children in today’s society are exposed to trauma. Often it takes the form of physical or sexual abuse the child has experienced personally. Or it could be a severe physical injury from an accident or direct attack, or deprivation and suffering caused by a natural disaster. In other cases, a child might be facing the aftermath of something terrible happening to another person. The death of a parent, sibling, or close friend, particularly if it was attributable to violence, war, or disaster, is particularly unsettling.

While no subgroup of American society is completely immune to exposure to trauma, children from both socioeconomically deprived backgrounds and racial and ethnic minority groups are more susceptible. In addition, not all children react to trauma to the same degree. While some short-term distress is to be expected, children and adolescents vary considerably in their ability to rebound from the tragic event and get on with their lives.
Single traumatic episodes are not necessarily associated with faster recovery than multiple traumas. There are many other determinants of possible long term residual effects, such as socioeconomic and cultural factors, pre-existing personality problems, and ongoing life stressors. In addition, some forms of trauma, such as physical abuse, can have long term deleterious neurobiological effects, showing up in adolescence as mood disorders, eating disorders, poor impulse control, and suicidal ideation.
Most children do return to their baseline level of functioning after a few weeks or months, but among those who don’t, the needed professional help is rarely provided. Persistent behavioral changes like the following could be a clue that professional help is needed:
  • New fears and anxieties
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Prolonged sadness
  • Morbid thought
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Poor concentration
  • Decline in school work
  • Somatic complaints
  • Excessive anger and irritability
Many children and adolescents with post-traumatic stress disorder feel that the tragedy was their fault. Recent research findings suggest that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can help replace that distorted perception with more realistic ones.
Therapy including coping skills and problem solving training might also help.
Another key element in recovery is family and community involvement. Instead of just placing their child in therapy, parents should do the following:
  • Make their child feel safe and loved.
  • Be available as someone their child can turn to when troubled.
  • Get the school and organizations and agencies in the community to work together and be more actively involved.
If you would like to learn more about the subject of childhood trauma and the role of psychology, the following links are good sources of information.
http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/posttraumatic_stress_disorder_ptsd
http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/publication_store/your_child_childhood_trauma_and_its_effects
http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/children-trauma-update.aspx
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/media-spotlight/201211/how-can-we-treat-traumatized-children