Are you a parent to an adolescent that has experienced trauma early on in life?

Learn more about how Embark Behavioral Health can help your family by treating trauma using an evidence-based treatment model. See how trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) can effectively help heal your teen daughter or son.

The Impact Trauma Can Have on a Child or Teen

Children or teenagers that may experience a traumatic event, do so at a critical time in their neurological and psychological development. The teen brain is still maturing at this time, especially in the areas of:

  • Critical thinking
  • Decision-making
  • Emotion regulation
  • Impulse control
  • Memory
  • Motivation

When a teen experiences trauma, they can become emotionally devastated by it. The experience can have serious consequences on every aspect of their life, even leading to impaired functioning.

For a teen that struggles with the aftermath of a trauma, trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective tool for guiding them through the healing process.

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What Is a Trauma?

A trauma is an overwhelming event that exceeds an individual’s ability to make sense of the event due to an experience or perception of severe threat (emotional, physical, and/or relational). Traumatic situations that make your child feel a loss of empowerment, out-of-control, overwhelmed or terrified, can leave a deep scar on the psyche.

The resulting effects of trauma may resolve over a period of days or weeks, but when it doesn’t, it is then diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Examples of traumatic events a teen might experience include:

  • Death of a parent or close loved one
  • Domestic violence
  • Natural disaster
  • Parents getting divorced
  • Physical abuse or assault
  • Serious accident
  • Serious health condition of self or close loved one
  • Sexual abuse or assault
  • Multiple or complex traumas

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Symptoms of Trauma in Teens

Many adolescents are able to resolve the effects of trauma in a reasonable period of time. Some, however, will still experience great suffering following a traumatic event. They may become traumatized children who are burdened with a long list of lasting psychological effects that negatively impact their lives.

These symptoms might include:

  • Anxiety
  • Avoidance of any person, place or thing that might trigger memories of the event
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulties at school, declining academic performance
  • Experiencing strong emotions, such as anger, despair or sorrow
  • Flashbacks or nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Isolating behaviors
  • Problems in relationships
  • Substance use

When the symptoms following the trauma do not resolve within a few weeks, it is important to have the teen assessed by a mental health professional.

How Trauma-Focused CBT Can Help

TF-CBT is an evidence-based psychotherapy that is used primarily for children and teens, along with their caregivers or parents, to help them resolve the lingering effects of trauma. These effects may include the symptoms related to anxiety, depression or PTSD.

Effective treatment consists of therapy that is provided in individual settings, group therapy and family therapy sessions.

TF-CBT is a therapeutic model that is designed for children and teens. It uses trauma-sensitive interventions along with relational-based, cognitive-behavioral, family, and humanistic techniques to help young people integrate the trauma. It has been clinically studied for 25 years, and has been recognized by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as a model program due to its efficacy. This research has shown that TF-CBT is successful in resolving a wide range of behavioral and emotional issues related to traumatic experiences.

TF-CBT is a short-term therapy that involves 12-25 treatment sessions. These sessions can be conducted in a clinical setting, at home, or in school. TF-CBT was initially introduced as an intervention for children or teens that had experienced sexual abuse. Over the years its use has expanded to treating all forms of trauma.

TF-CBT blends several types of therapy in addition to its trauma focus. It uses a relational-focused approach to build safety and security to which CBT techniques are then applied to help the young person to change their thought distortions and negative reactions. Over the course of the therapy, the teen will learn new positive self-messaging and rational responses when thoughts or memories of the trauma surface.

During the family-focused sessions, any dysfunctional family dynamics that contribute to the teen’s problem are identified and better communication skills, new parenting skills and stress-management are taught.

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Trauma-Focused CBT for Teens

When an adolescent has experienced trauma, they may not know how to articulate their feelings. They may suffer in silence, not knowing what or who can possibly help them process the pain. Teens with PTSD experience intense internal distress which produces maladaptive means of coping (isolation, substance use, sexualized behaviors, etc.).

TF-CBT provides a supportive space for young people to feel comfortable talking about their struggle after a trauma. The therapist will work with the teen one-on-one, and also with the parents and the teen together. This teamwork approach helps forge a sense of purpose for working through the challenges together with a shared goal.

There are also TF-CBT workbooks to help guide the teen on their treatment journey. These provide prompts and open-ended sentences that can assist the teen in getting in touch with their emotions, and writing about them, following a trauma.

Over the course of the therapy, teens will begin to resolve the emotional distress, irrational thoughts, and maladaptive behaviors that have kept them stuck in the traumatic moment through a combination of safe relational processes and CBT interventions.

These negative thoughts generate from feelings of low self-worth and shame, especially when associated with relational trauma such as sexual abuse. By shifting their thoughts toward self-affirming messaging and rational behavioral responses, the teen can process the related emotions and heal.

TF-CBT is sometimes augmented through experiential therapies. Getting outside of the office setting and using movement and experiences can enhance the clinical results. Some teens actually feel more comfortable discussing their feelings while in motion, versus sitting in a clinical setting with the therapist. Examples of experiential therapy include equine therapy, rock climbing, walking, and hiking.

Holistic activities have also been shown to amplify the therapeutic results. These are methods the teen can use to self-soothe and relax when a memory of the trauma occurs.

Some examples of holistic activities include mindfulness meditation, deep-breathing exercises, yoga, grounding skills, and keeping a journal.

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How Embark Behavioral Health Provides Trauma-Focused CBT for Teens

Embark offers a wide array of behavior therapy and mental health services geared toward teens and young adults. We provide TF-CBT for teens that have experienced trauma or symptoms of PTSD to help them heal from, as well as process, the traumatic event.

Our team of clinicians and medical professionals understand the unique emotional needs of adolescents who have experienced traumatic life events. This expert knowledge enhances treatment success.

Our services provide your family with affordable help, when and where you need it, at the right level of care. We also accept most insurance plans. Contact us today.