Solutions for Child Trauma: Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Sharon Fischer, LCSW

Emotional pain is not as easily noticed as physical pain. It doesn’t come in the form of a broken arm or a scuffed knee. However, just like a physical injury, emotional injuries must be cleaned out and nurtured before they can heal. Trauma is one example of an emotional injury. Just like you wouldn’t ignore a broken arm, trauma can also not be ignored.

Trauma includes any event that a child has either been through or witnessed that threatens one’s or another one’s life and invokes a strong feeling of fear. This includes witnessing or experiencing a sexual or physical assault, going through a scary event like an earthquake, fire, mudslide, car accident, or witnessing the death of a friend or loved one.

Sometimes you as parents are aware of these events occurring, however there are instances when a child may have been through a traumatic event and not tell you. Kids may think they can help themselves and may be ashamed to admit what has happened to them. They may worry about how you will react or of hurting you. So, if your child hasn’t told you, then how are you supposed to figure out if something like this has happened?

Kids who have been through trauma react differently in different stages of development. A teenage girl might drown her emotions in drugs or alcohol. A 9-year-old girl might withdraw in the classroom when she was once the star of the class. A boy at age 10 might start gaining a lot of weight or getting into fights at school. The most important thing to look for is a drastic change in how your child behaves at home and out in the world.

The thing about trauma is, just liked a scuffed knee, the longer it goes untreated the more infected it gets. For example, the 9-year-old girl may start out withdrawing in the classroom, but once she gets to be 15 she may start to engage in frequent sexual activity. Then as an adult she may use drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with the emotional pain she has been experiencing most of her life. That is why getting help is so crucial. Once she begins to tell her story and deal with her pain, she can begin to heal.

Trauma Focused-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) can help a child deal with the pain of the traumatic event before the injury gets overly infected. TF-CBT teaches kids techniques to recognize and deal with negative emotions through relaxation skills and understanding how to change their thoughts to feel better. This type of therapy creates a safe place for kids to tell their story while involving parents or caregivers along the way. TF-CBT is also considered an evidenced-based practice, as its effectiveness has been proven over and over again in clinical research studies.

Parents sometimes feel responsible for their child’s trauma which may prevent them from seeking help, but it’s important to remember that it is not your fault or your child’s fault that this happened. The good news is that effective help is available and your child and you can get through this. Once the injury is cleaned out and nurtured with TF-CBT your child can heal and go on to live a fulfilling life.

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