therapy for childhood trauma can help adults and childrenShare on Pinterest
Lisa Wiltse/Getty Images

By age 16, more than two-thirds of children report experiencing at least one traumatic event, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Fortunately, the right therapy can help children, adolescents, youth, and adults find ways to heal and cope with the effects of traumatic experiences such as abuse, community violence, natural disasters, abandonment, and the sudden loss of a loved one. .

Here, we discuss childhood trauma, the different types, how it can affect you, signs to look out for, and treatment options for children and adults.

A traumatic event poses a threat to a child’s life or physical safety. This includes events that are frightening, dangerous, or violent.

For some children, there may not be time to heal between traumatic events – their life is in a near-constant state of chronic stress and trauma.

Examples of childhood trauma include:

  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • psychological and emotional abuse
  • negligence
  • natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes or fires
  • Homelessness
  • racism
  • serious accidents or life-threatening illnesses
  • violent loss of a loved one
  • sexual exploitation
  • refugee and war experiences
  • community and school violence
  • witnessing or experiencing family or intimate partner violence
  • military stressors such as parental loss, injury, or deployment

Childhood trauma affects each person differently. However, there are some common signs and symptoms to be aware of in both children and adults.

In preschool and elementary school children:

  • separation anxiety
  • become anxious and fearful
  • difficulty sleeping and increased nightmares
  • crying or acting
  • decreased appetite
  • Bad mood
  • increased aggression and anger

Teenagers may experience all of the signs listed above, plus the following:

  • irritability
  • withdrawal from social activities
  • academic problems
  • blaming oneself for the event (guilt and shame)
  • feeling depressed
  • difficult to focus
  • eating disorders and other self-injurious behaviors
  • increased behaviors such as sexual activity and alcohol or drug use

In adults, unresolved childhood trauma can take many forms. For example, adult women who experienced sexual abuse as children or adolescents often show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), distorted self-perception, shame, fear, guilt, guilt, humiliation, and chronic physical pain, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Adults dealing with PTSD from childhood trauma may struggle with their jobs, relationships, and their own mental health.

Here are some emotional, physical, and behavioral signs to watch out for:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • panic attacks
  • poor concentration
  • fatigue
  • impulsiveness
  • sleep problems
  • chronic health conditions
  • compulsion
  • self harm
  • chronic stress and inflammation
  • isolation
  • eating disorders
  • suicidal ideation

Childhood trauma can cause both immediate and future adverse effects. But the good news is that treatment can help you identify triggers, develop coping strategies, and lessen symptoms, all in a safe and supportive environment.

Here are some of the common treatment modalities for adolescents, teens, and adults.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a subtype of cognitive behavioral therapy. CPT is often the first choice when treating PTSD, especially when addressing the long-term effects of childhood trauma on adults.

For PTSD, the American Psychiatric Association recommends a treatment of more than 12 sessions. This typically involves education about the thoughts and emotions of PTSD followed by formal trauma processing and the development of skills to identify and address unhelpful thoughts related to traumatic events.

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)

Like CPT, trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy is a subtype of cognitive behavioral therapy.

Is evidence-based model incorporates trauma-sensitive interventions with cognitive behavioral techniques, humanistic principles, and family support that builds on the involvement of trusted parents and caregivers in the treatment process.

TF-CBT is effective for children, adolescents, and adolescents who are experiencing significant emotional difficulties as a result of a traumatic event. The typical duration is 12 to 15 sessions.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is another therapy to treat trauma and PTSD. EMDR uses repetitive eye movements to reshape memories of trauma.

There are eight phases of EMDR including history, preparation, assessment, treatment, and assessment. Investigate shows that EMDR is an empirically validated treatment for addressing unprocessed memories related to adverse life experiences and trauma.

Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET)

Narrative exposure therapy is an alternative to TF-CBT for people, including children, with PTSD. NET is a short-term individual intervention that focuses on incorporating trauma exposure into an autobiographical context known as a timeline.

This timeline remains with the patient after therapy ends. NET is more efficient in treating people with multiple traumatic events.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE)

prolonged exposure therapy is a subtype of cognitive behavioral therapy used to treat PTSD and other mental health conditions. PE is often carried out for 3 months.

During sessions, the therapist helps people confront memories, fears, feelings, and situations related to the trauma. The therapeutic relationship must be stable before exposure begins in the office and outside of therapy.

Treatment for children will be different from treatment for adolescents, youth, and adults. Because of this, children need specialized therapy designed to suit their levels of development and ability to participate in the process.

play therapy

Play therapy uses the therapeutic power of play to help children overcome trauma. The target group for play therapy They are children from 3 to 12 years old.

During a play therapy session, the therapist may observe a child through play. They can also use this age-appropriate behavior to address the trauma and develop coping strategies.

art therapy

Art therapy uses creative expression to address and heal the effects of traumatic events. Artistic media include drawing, coloring, painting, collage, and sculpture.

The American Art Therapy Association says that art therapy provides an outlet without words. It can help improve cognition, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, reduce conflict and stress, and cultivate emotional resilience.

Childhood trauma can have consequences well into adulthood. A study 2019 found that adults in psychiatric outpatient programs experienced a higher rate of traumatic events as children compared to adults who were not in treatment.

Other study 2019 analyzed data from 1,420 participants and found that those with childhood trauma experienced adverse outcomes in adulthood, including mental illness, addiction, and poor health.

The participants were interviewed annually as children and then four more times as adults (at ages 19, 21, 25 and 30) for 22 years.

Of the 1,420 participants, 30.9% said they experienced one traumatic event in childhood, 22.5% experienced two traumatic events, and 14.8% experienced three or more.

The effects of trauma at a young age can result in mental health conditions including:

  • PTSD
  • anxiety disorders
  • major depressive disorder
  • eating disorders
  • alcohol and substance use disorders

Experiencing sexual abuse as a child may also increase suicidal ideation in adults, according to results from a survey 2017.

Preventing or reducing the consequences of childhood trauma is possible.

If your child is dealing with the effects of trauma, the first step is to show support. You will want to find a qualified mental health professional to treat the trauma your child is dealing with and get them into therapy as soon as possible.

Family therapy is also recommended. Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy is one way that includes the family in the process.

These sessions can help parents or caregivers learn how to support and encourage their children at home. It also teaches parents how to avoid blame, learn to listen, and watch for worsening symptoms.

The long-term effects of childhood trauma can increase the risk of mental health conditions such as PTSD and depression, chronic illness, or substance use disorders.

However, with proper therapy, the outlook for people who have experienced childhood trauma is positive.

Depending on the type of trauma and how long ago it occurred, treatment can take a while, especially if you’re dealing with these issues as an adult.

Therapy for childhood trauma can help lessen the impact of abuse, neglect, witnessing violence, natural disasters, and serious accidents or life-threatening illness.

Addressing these issues during childhood or adolescence can reduce the risk of developing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression or chronic conditions. However, seeking treatment as an adult is also beneficial, as it helps you identify the trauma and deal with its effects.