Has A Recent Traumatic Event Led To A Significant Change In Your Teenager?
Has your teenager been directly exposed (experienced, witnessed or learned of harm to a close loved one) to an actual event that threatened life, presented real danger, caused injury or involved a sexual violation? Has your teen experienced reoccurring thoughts, feelings, memories or nightmares related to the event? Have you noticed that your teen avoids people, places, situations or things that are related to the event? Has he or she become withdrawn and socially isolated or, adversely, rebellious, aggressive or highly emotional? Are you feeling highly stressed, helpless, scared or anxious as you watch your teen behave in uncharacteristic ways? Do you wish that you could take your child’s pain away, but have no idea how to do so? Do you feel guilty – especially if you were somehow involved in the event – and constantly wish that you could go back in time and do something that would have prevented the trauma from occurring?
Watching our children in pain and experience trauma can be an extremely scary and painful place to be as a parent. It can be difficult to determine how severe the trauma is and if your teenager really is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and needs expert help. It may seem like your teen is on an emotional rollercoaster. You may feel like you’re walking on eggshells, not wanting to set your child off. You may be struggling to calm your teen and find ways to curve their sudden aggressive, rebellious or uncharacteristic behaviors. Or, you may feel challenged to find ways to connect with your child and show him or her that they are supported, loved and okay. Teenagers – like adults – perceive events and process stress and pain in different ways. However, it is common for trauma to affect grades and school behavior, peer relationships, eating and sleeping patterns, or trigger panic, and/or concentration problems. A BPS therapist highly trained and experienced in trauma counseling for teens can help determine how severe your teen’s response to the traumatic event is – if he or she truly is suffering from PTSD – and provide your teen with the support and tools needed to navigate this painful time.
Unprocessed Trauma Causes PTSD In Many Teenagers
When a teenager experiences a trauma that does not get processed, it’s common to develop PTSD. Some research suggests that PTSD is directly related to the perception of self in relationship to the event – that the person feels victimized somehow. This is different for everyone. While you – or another teenager – may have processed the event and related trauma already, your child may have been impacted more severely and still be struggling. Teenagers still do not have fully developed brains or nervous systems and a trauma can have a significant effect on these immature systems. Trauma affects the body and can have long-lasting physical impacts, as well as emotional ones, if it’s not processed in a healthy way and discharged from the body. Therefore, for some teens, getting help can be vital.
Therapy Can Help Your Teen Heal From Trauma
Therapy can be very effective in helping teenagers heal from trauma. How long it will take, however, varies greatly. It depends on if your teen experienced a single incident trauma or if the trauma occurred over time. It can also depend on your teenager’s resiliency, support system and how soon after the event intervention occurs.
Because trauma manifests itself physically, treating PTSD may require more than just a talk therapy approach. Many teens become “stuck” in their trauma and a fight or flight response. Imagine being in a car and pushing on the gas peddle and the break simultaneously. Thankfully, there are many modalities to help teens heal from trauma, which can yield significant, positive results.
For many teens, getting help soon after the event is critical. Most PTSD symptoms will not go away without proper treatment. And, if a trauma goes untreated, it can have a lasting impact. Your teen may continue to experience physical triggers as his or her body keeps trying to finish processing its trauma. Symptoms can become compounded and lead to increased and abnormal fears, social isolations and risky behaviors.
Using specific modalities, your BPS therapist will help your teen unwind and settle his or her nervous system. Once the nervous system has settled, your teen’s therapist will use various techniques to help your teen “unpack” the trauma and take it to completion. With slow and guided support, your teen can become unstuck, finish processing his or her trauma and let go of the symptoms created by the trauma. Trauma is fragmenting. But, with time and the right therapist, your teenager can reintegrate, feel much better and return to his or her normal self.
But, you still may have questions or concerns…
I think that therapy could be helpful. We need to do something. I’m just not sure that we can afford it right now.
This is your child’s life and wellbeing. Addressing the emotions and behaviors associated with your teenager’s PTSD may prevent a host of problems from continuing to occur now and as he or she enters new developmental stages and adulthood. Working with a therapist on fully processing a trauma and the physical and emotional symptoms it creates now can be critical. It can help symptoms from becoming compounded and prevent negative residual feelings and behaviors. It can also give both you and your teen the tools, education, resources and support needed to navigate a painful and confusing time.
Many people come to BPS having worked with other therapists who were not trained to work specifically with adolescents struggling with PTSD or who their teen couldn’t relate with – which is a waste of time and money. At BPS, we’ll conduct an initial assessment and match your teen with a therapist who is trained and experienced in working with adolescent PTSD and whose personality is a good match for your child. Once you find that good match, making a commitment to your child, yourself and your family may be one of the most valuable investments there is. Imagine your teenager feeling and functioning better on a regular basis and ask yourself what that’s worth.
If money still is an issue, you can talk with your BPS therapist to see if they work on a sliding scale. They may also be able to help you find other lower cost resources in the community.
Time heals all wounds, right? Shouldn’t my child be able to get over this without expert help?
If your teen truly is suffering from PTSD, it will not go away on its own. Believing otherwise is kind of like saying a serious medical condition will go away without treatment. There are traumas that can be processed without expert help, but when a trauma reaches the level of PTSD (which is a psychiatric condition), treatment is vital. Intervention is needed to help your teen’s brain and nervous system so he or she can become unstuck and resolve the trauma. Your child will also get the help he or she needs to manage emotions and behaviors, which will keep symptoms from becoming compounded. It can prevent your teen from being easily triggered. Simply put, therapy can help your child become whole again and feel better now and in the long-term.
Both my teen and myself are resistant to therapy. We’re afraid that reliving the trauma will be too painful and overwhelming.
Your concern and fear is valid and very understandable. But, sorting through the pain and discharging the trauma is needed for your child to process, heal and recover. This is where the right therapist can be very helpful.
Your teen’s BPS therapist will take the time to build a strong and trusted relationship. Your therapist will meet your teen where he or she is emotionally and work on building trust, providing education and getting your teen’s nervous system more resilient before the traumatic event is discussed. Your teen can set the pace of the work, and will be supported and guided when he or she is finally ready to begin processing and healing. It may take time, but with help, your teen can work through pain and fears, resolve trauma and feel better sooner.
We encourage you to schedule an initial assessment with Dr. Jan Hittelman. Jan will work with you to determine what your teen’s specific issues are and to ensure a good match between your teenager and a BPS therapist in terms of personality, style and expertise.
You can also check out our free, online therapist directory, which will match you and your teen with a therapist who has expertise working with adolescents and PTSD.
BPS therapist Jeremy Dion, LPC, helped create the content for this page. Jeremy is a licensed professional counselor, a certified Gestalt therapist and has a background in music therapy. He has been working with adolescents with PTSD since 2003.