Therapy for Children
Sadly, it is estimated that millions of children each year suffer from some type of abuse or trauma, involving the entire spectrum from neglect to sexual assault and everything in between. Identifying at-risk children is difficult, to say the least, especially when neglect and assault are perpetrated by family or close relatives who may argue that they are simply engaging in “discipline” or provide other harmless-sounding justifications. Yet because we know just how devastating abuse and trauma can be, developing systems to identify and intervene on behalf of these children has become a priority for both the private and public sector alike.
Yet physical intervention is only the first step in ensuring both the short- and long-term health of at-risk children. Unfortunately, adverse childhood experiences such as neglect and/or abuse—if not addressed early and effectively—can, and often does, lead to significant mental and/or physical health problems well into adulthood. For example, a recent study by the CDC has shown that neglected or abused children have a significantly elevated risk of PTSD, depression, substance abuse, and suicide as adults. Thus, any intervention on behalf of a child who has experienced trauma, abuse, or neglect should include, in addition to steps to assure physical safety, steps to ensure mental health as well. For many children, intensive therapy with a trained therapist should play a critical role in the recovery process.
The goal of any effective therapy approach must be to help children understand the impact that their specific traumatic situation may have on their emotions and behavior, develop effective skills to manage their emotional turmoil, and learn how to communicate their feelings in an appropriate way. There are a variety of well-researched techniques that can enable children to face and address the traumas they have suffered. The most common technique is Prolonged exposure therapy (PET), also known as Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a talk-based approach designed to help individuals confront their fears by gradually approaching their trauma-related memories and feelings. The goal of this type of therapy is to help children (or adults) construct a meaningful and helpful narrative about their experience.
Alternate Therapy Options for Children after Abuse or Trauma
While cognitive-based therapies can be an effective method of therapy, it relies on the ability of the child to talk about their experience. Unfortunately, many children simply can’t or won’t verbalize their traumatic experiences, rendering these therapeutic approaches less effective. In the past several decades, however, therapists have had success utilizing alternate strategies that do not require verbalization. One such methodology is known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Because it does not rely on a child’s ability to verbalize his or her traumatic memories, it has proven highly effective as an alternate therapeutic option for many children.
EMDR utilizes sounds, movement, and/or pulsations to stimulate the brain while simultaneously focusing on traumatic memories. While the exact mechanisms by which EMDR work are currently under investigation, researchers believe that allowing a child to move through memories of traumatic experiences while experiencing an outside stimulus enable the child to visit a disturbing memory only in brief doses and as an observer instead of, or at least in addition to, as a participant. It can help children create new associations with those traumatic memories and reduce sensitivity to triggering events. The result for many children is the ability to overcome depression, anger, anxiety and other symptoms common to PTSD. It also helps children exercise control over their own future, a critical element for many abuse victims.
The goal of any therapist seeking to help a child or adolescent cope with a history of abuse must be to develop a therapeutic approach tailored to the needs of each individual. For some, traditional talk-based, play-based, and cognitive behavioral therapies may prove highly effective. For others, a less traditional approach such as EMDR may prove more effective. Yet in the end, the exact process—while important to researchers, of course—is less important than helping a child come to terms with his or her past and enabling that child to live a happy, healthy life moving forward.
For more information on the types of therapy that may help you or your child contact us today.
Collaborative Therapeutic Services (CTS) seeks to maximize clients’ options by offering a variety of services, hours, and service providers with diverse specializations. We offer evening & weekend appointments. Have questions? Contact Us Here or Call 813-951-7346. Located in Tampa, Florida.