Context is Key in Teen Trauma Diagnosis
Context is Key in Teen Trauma Diagnosis
The impact of trauma varies depending on a variety of factors, not just the type of events leading to post-traumatic stress. As a result of growing research on the impact of trauma, researchers are beginning to understand that trauma is a risk factor for future adversity, victimization, and negative coping skills. Considerations for treatment vary depending on context when diagnosing teens with trauma.
The Umbrella of Teen Trauma Diagnoses
There are a wide range of events that can lead to post-traumatic stress, including physical or sexual violence, emotional abuse, bullying, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, car accidents, life-threatening illnesses, or witnessing acts of violence. The type of event does not necessarily determine how someone will respond. Most people who experience the same events process it differently. This can make it difficult to predict vulnerability to PTSD.
Research suggests that traumatic stress can occur following major life transitions and conflict in relationships, especially when accumulated. While these “little t” traumas, compared to “Big T” traumas, may not sound significant enough to lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress, over time, they affect one’s ability to cope and respond appropriately. This demonstrates that PTSD may be an umbrella term used to describe a variety of experiences that can destabilize one’s sense of self and their safety. Some people are resilient in the aftermath of significant loss, while others may feel traumatized by experiences of being rejected in school.
Symptoms of Trauma
Symptoms of trauma aren’t exclusive to “Big T” or “little t” traumas. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, all types of PTSD consist of three groups of symptoms:
- Recurrent and distressing re-experiencing of the traumatic event in the form of dreams, thoughts, or flashbacks
- Emotional numbing and avoidance of anything that may trigger memories of the trauma
- A permanent state of increased arousal
Factors to consider when determining the impact of trauma include:
We know that early adversity can have lasting impacts on one’s future physical and mental health. Studies have shown that accumulation of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) before the age of 18 put individuals more at risk for traumatic events or repeat victimization later in life. While ACEs do not explicitly refer to traumatic events, they are negative experiences that shape one’s beliefs about themselves and the world early in life that can be hard to shake.
Experiences in the first decade of one’s life provides a framework for their belief system, even if many of these memories are lost or repressed. Psychologists use the phrase “developmental trauma” to describe complex trauma and insecure attachment in childhood that disrupts later developmental stages of autonomy, identity exploration, and intimacy.
While “Big T” and “little t” trauma share symptoms, the psychological impact of trauma depends on the nature of the event, rather than the type of the event. For example, interpersonal issues, like abuse or family conflict, can affect one’s ability to trust others and relate to others. External events, like natural disasters and war, affect the amount of control one believes they have over their life.
We also know that environment plays a large role in shaping traumatic stress. The impact of trauma and considerations for treatment depend on one’s familiarity with the environment in which they’ve experienced trauma and how often they are re-exposed to this environment.
Examples may include home, school, parties, work, certain neighborhoods, public areas or parks, or traveling.
There is a myth that trauma comes from lasting exposure to violence. In reality, even one-time events can significantly shift one’s sense of safety. There is often a more noticeable shift after one-time events than lasting events, as people are often more likely to speak up about their experiences and be aware of the impact. One-time events can set teens up for multiple events as they are more likely to freeze when faced with similar situations. It is important to look into treatment options for your teen with PTSD before they experience lasting effects into adulthood.
Equinox RTC Can Help
Equinox is a residential treatment center for boys ages 14-18. This program specializes in the treatment of trauma, loss, and attachment issues. Equinox uses a relationship-based and principle-based level of intervention. The treatment model is based on relationships and principles as well. Students will experience both positive and negative outcomes and learn how to cope in a healthy and effective way. Our goal is to challenge narratives and stigma around male mental health and trauma. Fostering resiliency is an important focus at Equinox. This treatment center addresses each student as a whole and helps them heal from the inside out.
Call 877-279-8925. We can help your family today!
Kyle received his Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy from Texas Tech University. As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Kyle has worked in a variety of clinical settings over the last seventeen years. His career has focused on treating both boys and girls, with specialization in trauma, processing difficulties, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, OCD and difficult family systems.