Children may have all sorts of different reactions to a traumatic experience- some become fearful, some sad, while others act out. It is possible for children to heal from trauma and lead happy and healthy lives. Many caregivers worry that having a child talk about what happened in therapy keeps the trauma alive and prevents the child or teen from moving on. This is not the case. Talking about what happened in a therapeutic way is very different and involves processing the impact of the trauma. Dr. Gibson offers several different treatment approaches described below.
Trauma Assessment Pathway (TAP)
There are multiple types of therapy that have been developed for and/or shown effective with traumatized children and teenagers. The Trauma Assessment Pathway is an assessment procedure that allows the clinician to direct a family with a child who has experienced a trauma to the most relevant type of therapy or the most immediate intervention needed. The therapies that can be suggested include Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Childhood Traumatic Grief, Child-Parent Psychotherapy, and Parent-Child Interaction Therapy. Please see the sections on each type of therapy for more detailed information.
Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)
TF-CBT is an evidence-based treatment for children and teens who have experienced one or more traumatic events and have symptoms of post-traumatic stress. TF-CBT was originally developed for use with children and teens who were sexually abused, but has been used effectively with those who were physically abused, witnessed domestic violence, or experienced multiple traumas. TF-CBT incorporates non-offending parents or caregivers throughout the course of treatment. Treatment includes education about trauma and common reactions, learning and practicing safety skills, assistance with parenting and behavior problems, stress management and coping skills, learning about feelings and ways to manage them, processing unresolved thoughts and feelings related to the traumatic experience, and family sessions to discuss the trauma together. Talking about the trauma is done in a gradual supportive manner after coping skills have been learned to manage any discomfort that arises.
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Childhood Traumatic Grief (TG-CBT)
TG-CBT is an adaptation of TF-CBT for children and teens who have experienced childhood traumatic grief through loss of a loved one. TG-CBT involves the same steps as TF-CBT with additional sessions focused specifically on working through the grieving process in a healthy manner.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is a form of therapy that helps people heal from trauma or other distressing life experiences. EMDR is recognized as an evidenced based treatment for trauma by many organizations including the American Psychological Association and the World Health Organization.
Our brains have a natural way to recover from traumatic memories and events. This process involves communication between the amygdala (the alarm signal for stressful events), the hippocampus (which assists with learning, including memories about safety and danger), and the prefrontal cortex (which analyzes and controls behavior and emotion). While many times traumatic experiences can be managed and resolved spontaneously, they may not be processed without help. Stress responses are part of our natural fight, flight, or freeze instincts. When distress from a disturbing event remains, the upsetting images, thoughts, and emotions may create feelings of overwhelm, of being back in that moment, or of being “frozen in time.” EMDR therapy helps the brain process these memories, and allows normal healing to resume. The experience is still remembered, but the fight, flight, or freeze response from the original event is resolved.
EMDR therapy does not require talking in detail about the distressing issue, or homework between sessions. EMDR, rather than focusing on changing the emotions, thoughts, or behaviors resulting from the distressing issue, allows the brain to resume its natural healing process. EMDR therapy is designed to resolve unprocessed traumatic memories in the brain. Part of the therapy includes alternating eye movements, sounds, or taps.
HOW DOES EMDR THERAPY WORK?
The therapy heals trauma by teaching a patient skills to handle emotional distress and using stimulation such as eye movements and taps. Before beginning EMDR, the therapist will teach coping skills and strategies so the patient feels safe and grounded. The therapist will also work to increase the patient’s resiliency and teach the patient skills to self-regulate emotions. Once prepared, the patient can identify negative feelings and beliefs that may have developed as a result of the experienced trauma. The EMDR process helps patients release the impact of trauma from their minds and bodies so that they feel stronger, safer, and more secure.
Want to learn more about EMDR Therapy? Click on one of the links below for more in-depth information:
A Brief Overview: What is EMDR Therapy?- https://www.emdria.org/page/what_is_emdr_therapy
An Introduction to EMDR Therapy- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pkfln-ZtWeY&feature=youtu.be
The Eight Phases of EMDR Therapy Treatment- https://www.emdria.org/page/120