CHILD THERAPY

Child CPTSD

CPTSD Treatment for Children

The first priority, in helping a child who has experienced chronic abuse, neglect, or maltreatment, is to ensure the child’s safety — oftentimes this means working with a child protection agency.

As for therapeutic treatment, comprehensive research hasn’t been done yet to determine whether PTSD treatments are adequate for addressing the symptoms of children with CPTSD. Dissociation, emotion dysregulation, toxic self-perceptions, and dysregulation of bodily functioning — these typical symptoms of CPTSD may not be addressed by standard PTSD treatments alone (Ford and Courtois, 2009).

However, therapists can follow the best-validated practices for treating children with PTSD, in addition to careful attention to the additional areas of development that are typically affected by CPTSD.

The overall goals for treating children with CPTSD are similar to those for treating adults. Treating children involves addressing those main areas where CPTSD survivors usually continue showing shortcomings in development, even as adults. These main areas of focus are: Regulation of Emotions; Memory, Attention, and Decision-Making; Dissociation; Dysregulation of Bodily Functioning; and Disorganized Attachment: (Ford and Courtois, 2009)

Regulation of Emotions

The first priority, in helping a child who has experienced chronic abuse, neglect, or maltreatment, is to ensure the child’s safety — oftentimes this means working with a child protection agency.

As for therapeutic treatment, comprehensive research hasn’t been done yet to determine whether PTSD treatments are adequate for addressing the symptoms of children with CPTSD. Dissociation, emotion dysregulation, toxic self-perceptions, and dysregulation of bodily functioning — these typical symptoms of CPTSD may not be addressed by standard PTSD treatments alone (Ford and Courtois, 2009).

However, therapists can follow the best-validated practices for treating children with PTSD, in addition to careful attention to the additional areas of development that are typically affected by CPTSD.

The overall goals for treating children with CPTSD are similar to those for treating adults. Treating children involves addressing those main areas where CPTSD survivors usually continue showing shortcomings in development, even as adults. These main areas of focus are: Regulation of Emotions; Memory, Attention, and Decision-Making; Dissociation; Dysregulation of Bodily Functioning; and Disorganized Attachment: (Ford and Courtois, 2009)

Memory, Attention & Decision Making

CPTSD treatments include a variety of methods for addressing problems with memory, focusing and sustaining attention, thinking clearly and planning courses of action, and following through with plans.

Disassociation

A natural response to traumatic situations is to become avoidant and “hypervigilant.” This defense mechanism can turn into an unhealthy pattern of disconnected thinking and feeling, so that the victim feels “out of touch” with the environment and with him/herself.

Treatment helps children work toward “a mindful, self-aware, emotionally attuned, and cognitively planful approach to each step in ordinary day-to-day activities.”

Dysregulation of Bodily Functioing

Traumatized children often experience physical discomfort and illnesses that are exacerbated by stressful situations, or that are unexplained beyond psychological causes.

Psychotherapy for traumatized children helps children and their caregivers to recognize and understand input from their bodies as a way of being in touch with their emotions. The goal is to learn what the body is telling them when they experience pain or discomfort, and to make healthy emotional and physiological choices as a result.

Disorganized Attatchment

Overlapping with the other areas of concern, addressing “disorganized attachment” involves helping children to regulate emotions, attention, and patterns of thinking in order to experience comfortable and safe interactions with peers and adults. Ideally, children learn to form trusting, healthy relationships, rather than the unhealthy attachments to abusers that they may be used to.

All victims of chronic trauma, child or adult, may have trouble regulating emotions, making decisions, interacting with others, and interacting with the “self” in healthy ways. But with children in particular, Ford and Courtois encourage therapists to continually ask themselves, “What is this child aware of feeling and thinking, and of which bodily and emotional feelings and thoughts is the child unaware?” (2009). Still in their developmental phases, children may especially show trouble understanding their own physical and mental states. The job of the therapist is to guide children through development in all of the above categories simultaneously, equipping them with the tools they need so they can be “in touch” with themselves and their community.

Additional Reading

CHILDHOOD TRAUMA: COMPLEX POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER.

References

Ford, Julian D., and Christine A. Courtois. Treating Complex Traumatic Stress Disorders in Children and Adolescents: Scientific Foundations and Therapeutic Models. New York, NY: Guilford, 2009. Print.