Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

A Review of Trauma-Informed Treatment for Adolescents

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

A Review of Trauma-Informed Treatment for Adolescents

Article excerpt

Experiencing trauma as a child or youth often has a variety of serious repercussions that have the potential to follow an individual into adulthood. These may include experiencing difficulties in key areas of functioning such as academic achievement and social interactions, the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or coming into contact with the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, it is estimated that approximately 1 in 4 youth will experience some type of substantive trauma during his or her developmental years (Duke, Pettingell, McMorris, & Borowsky, 2010). The current article provides a summary of the main trauma-informed therapies that are currently available for treating adolescents with PTSD or trauma-related symptoms, as well as the therapeutic techniques that are common to all of these main treatments. Further, recommendations are provided concerning trauma-informed therapies that might be most beneficial to employ with adolescents. Implementing therapies that specifically consider a youth's potential exposure to trauma will facilitate a reduction of negative trauma-related symptoms as well as an improvement in life functioning.

Keywords: trauma, adolescents, trauma-informed treatment, PTSD, trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT)

Traumatic events are typically defined as incidents that are perceived as terrifying, shocking, sudden, or that potentially pose a threat to one's life, safety, or personal integrity (Buffington, Dierkhising, & Marsh, 2010; Cohen, Mannarino, & Deblinger, 2010). Examples of traumatic events include being the victim of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; being a victim of crime; witnessing a crime or abuse in the household; and surviving a natural disaster or a school shooting (Anthony, Lonigan, & Hecht, 1999). While these are some types of trauma, because the experience of trauma is subjective, it would be extremely difficult to delineate the full spectrum of potentially traumatic events. What one individual finds traumatic may not be traumatic to another, but as long as the individual is genuinely traumatized by the experience, he or she may experience the negative effects associated with trauma (Perry, 2001).

Studies in the area of trauma have revealed that many human beings are quite resilient when faced with a traumatic event and do not experience any further aversive effects as a result of the already-aversive experience (Amaya-Jackson et al., 2003). However, the subset of individuals who do experience the effects of trauma can be detrimentally impacted in a number of ways (Anda et al., 2006; Feeny, Foa, Treadwell, & March, 2004). Factors such as the length of time an individual experienced a particular trauma, as well as its severity, lead to an increased likelihood that the individual will suffer from long-lasting difficulties (Perry, 2001, 2009). As an example, Elklit (2002) determined that the traumatic experiences of physical and sexual abuse, rape, childhood neglect, and attempted suicide were the most likely to result in traumarelated symptoms. While some individuals may experience mild trauma-related effects, or only a small number of symptoms, others may develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a chronic and potentially debilitating condition (Amaya-Jackson et al., 2003).

PTSD was originally studied among war veterans and victims of rape, and for a period of time, it was unclear whether children and adolescents were also able to experience symptoms of PTSD or if it would necessarily be equivalent to the experience of adults (Saigh, 1988). A number of studies conducted on trauma-related effects among children and adolescents have now demonstrated that children and adolescents do in fact suffer from PTSD that is consistent with symptomology in adults (Amaya-Jackson & DeRosa, 2007; Anthony et al., 1999; Feeny et al., 2004). For example, Anthony et al. (1999) conducted a study with 5,664 child and adolescent survivors of a natural disaster and found that PTSD was expressed similarly across childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. …

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