Overview of Trauma Psychology

Disasters often destroy the physical structures children rely on for their daily activities: schools, homes, places of worship, and places of play. This places a burden on children as they are generally unnerved by changes in the pattern of daily life. These structures are transitional objects. Children rely on them for ego function.

One of the most destructive effects of PTSD is the delay and damage to a child’s ability to engage in normal developmental experiences. Anxiety, withdrawal, regression, and difficulty concentrating interfere with a child’s participation in socializing and succeeding at school. Once a child has fallen off his developmental path, it is difficult to get back, even after symptoms of emotional trauma have been resolved. A child that is behind her social peers is likely to suffer rejection. A child no longer doing well in school may reformulate his self-image as no longer being a good student and stop trying. Catching up can be very difficult. Trauma also fosters defiant behavior. In turn, that behavior can increase the risk of further victimization and lead to a cascade of problems including depression, substance abuse, aggressive behavior, and problems with the law.

Steps in the Treatment of Traumatized Children

1. Parental guidance and counseling in parallel with child
2. Creation of a narrative of the traumatic event to desensitize the child
3. Safety planning with the child

There are several forms of therapy for PTSD in children. The most successful evidence-based forms are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and art therapy. CBT views the child as an active, equal partner, who collaborates with learning tools towards recovery. It works well when the child wants to get better. Art therapy can be a more successful entry point into the foray of therapeutic options. Children who often have difficulty verbalizing their experiences after traumatic events. Play, drawing, painting, and sculpting is easier and provides a medium for exploring events and creating a joint narrative with the therapist. Children who won’t cooperate with CBT sometimes feel more comfortable engaging in art therapy because it provides an environment in which a sense of safety can be established.

Hosin, Amer A. Responses to Traumatized Children. Basingstoke England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. 1-65. Print.

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