A Child's Secret Trauma; Trauma Comes in Many Guises and Can Be Hard to Detect but One Hospital Unit Prides Itself on Being Able to Cope with Anything That May Befall You in South London, Says Tina Bexson

By Bexson, Tina | The Evening Standard (London, England), March 17, 2003 | Go to article overview

A Child's Secret Trauma; Trauma Comes in Many Guises and Can Be Hard to Detect but One Hospital Unit Prides Itself on Being Able to Cope with Anything That May Befall You in South London, Says Tina Bexson


Bexson, Tina, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: TINA BEXSON

Jobs for clinical psychologists IT happened so quickly.

One minute she was happily walking home from school, the next she was being grabbed from behind, a hand was pulled tight across her mouth, a voice in her ear threatened to slit her throat if she didn't hand over her mobile.

Months later, the extreme feelings of panic are still with her whenever she walks down the street. But which experts can help her, and exactly how can they do so?

She is only 10 years old.

Within the Michael Rutter Centre for Children and Young People at Maudsley Hospital in Camberwell, lies the Child Traumatic Stress Clinic. This provides a highly specialised service to children aged between three and 18 who are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and anxiety as a result of being caught up in frightening events. These range from car and rail crashes, and industrial accidents, to bullying, and violent crime, the latter increasing all the time if we go by recent news reports.

"We basically deal with anything that can happen to you in South London," says clinical psychologist Dr Sean Perrin, who makes up the small team along with clinical psychologist Dr Patrick Smith and consultant child psychologist Professor William Yule.

Despite the severity of their cases, Perrin is optimistic because, he says: "The symptoms that arise in the aftermath of trauma are very treatable, and it's a wonderful experience to help them reclaim their lives."

Before starting at the clinic seven years ago, and armed with a postdoctoral fellowship in childhood anxiety disorders, Perrin, 38, worked in Bosnia.

Through UNICEF, he helped treat children traumatised by war.

Today, he sees referrals from accident and emergency departments, GPs, and more recently from family liaison officers too.

But he says, too many anxious and traumatised children still go unrecognised because initial symptoms are not always apparent. GPs and mental health professionals, he says, often fail to ask how those who have been involved in traumatic events are doing psychologically.

"Other people can't see you worrying, they can't be inside your head when you're having a panic attack.

No one notices until the problem becomes so bad that the child has nightmares or, for example, wets the bed.

Then there's the compounding problem of parents thinking that the best thing is to 'just get on with life, and push the memory out of your head'. …

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