Finding Trauma Treatment for Children in Your Care

Childhood trauma can result from acute or prolonged emotionally or physically threatening experiences, including abuse or neglect, accidents, illness, familial conflict, loss, or discrimination.  Traumatized children may feel overwhelmed, helpless, or shocked and have difficulty processing their experiences. Signs of trauma include prolonged anger, sadness, or fear; numbness; nightmares or flashbacks; irritability; and frequent upset. 

Through treatment, children can carry traumatic memories less painfully. Any good therapy for trauma starts with a “trauma-informed therapist.” Trauma-informed practice principles include: recognizing trauma and can bear witness to it; creating a safe space with structure and predictability; collaborating with children and their families; drawing on their clients’ strength and resilience; and being sensitive to issues of culture, ethnicity, gender, and identity.  

A woman holds a child tightly.

Trauma-informed therapists use many approaches, including: 

  • Play Therapy.
    Play therapy uses play and creative expression to assist children in processing experiences, including trauma. This therapy is effective for young children and can be modified to work with older children. Caregiver involvement can enhance the healing process.
  • Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
    Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy uses psychoeducation, coping skills, gradual exposure to memories of the trauma, and cognitive processing techniques to help children manage their traumatic experiences. The involvement of caregivers can help children rebuild trust in adult relationships.
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE).
    PE encourages children to describe their memories in as much detail as possible and reexperience painful emotions within the safe context of a therapy session.  The goal is to repeatedly recount the events in detail to decrease the intense reactions to the initial trauma.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
    EMDR works with unprocessed adverse experiences and releases the emotions associated with them.  The therapist will instruct individuals to engage in certain activities, such as repetitive eye movements or tapping on their arms with their hands, while revisiting the memory of a complex emotion.
  • Movement, music, or art therapies
    These forms of therapy can stand on their own or integrate with other treatments. Most trauma therapists agree that healing the “whole brain,” including through creative modalities, is essential for healing.
  • Family Therapy
    Family therapy can be a valuable adjunct to any trauma therapy, as it can help children to feel more secure and develop more supportive and trusting relationships. Loved ones can bear witness to the trauma and further validate it. Carefully constructed family therapy can sometimes rebuild trust between children and caretakers who may have been the cause of or may not have protected them from trauma.

While the effects of trauma on children can be long-lasting and severe, with adequate support and trauma-informed treatment, children can develop coping skills, begin healing, and ultimately reconnect with safe, loved ones as they develop and grow.   

-Posted by Lori Rothfeld

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