Updated: Feb 3
Has your child had an experience that was either emotionally or physically traumatic? Is this still causing them stress, anxiety, and worrying you enough to seek help. Maybe you have decided to approach a therapist and ask for help, but what can they do that you can’t. Your child may need a form of therapy called Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This sounds like a real mouthful right? But don’t worry it’s a very useful tool in dealing with certain types of trauma and this video will help you understand it a bit more.
HOW CAN I NOTICE TRAUMA IN MY CHILD?
You may notice that your child has begun to have nightmares, or is avoiding going to certain places or mixing with certain people. They may be having trouble in school, their grades may be dropping or they are having difficulty in concentrating. You may notice your child is randomly getting angry about the smallest things and then denying they were getting that way, in fact, you could be noticing mood swings in general. All of the above could be put down to hormones or there could be underlying mental health issues.
WHAT IS TRAUMA FOR CHILDREN?
As a parent, anything that happens to our children and upsets them could be classed as traumatic. No parent wants to see their child crying, anxious, stressed, or depressed. Unfortunately, life events such as divorce, substance abuse like heavy drinking, domestic violence a parent being in prison or physical abuse may be happening to us as a parent but is affecting our children who are witnessing it and trying to cope with it.
So what is Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? It’s a type of therapy that helps children identify and change thoughts that upset them, make them anxious or distressed, and therefore stop these thoughts from influencing their behavior and emotions. For instance, your child may have a bad experience with a lady who has blonde hair and therefore develops a fear of not wanting to be around any ladies with blonde hair!
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM THE BEGINNING OF TF-CBT?
The first thing I would do when I meet a child is to try and help them tell me exactly what happened to them. This may sound easy, but it means they may relive the experience and this can be painful and distressing for them. I need to ask the right questions to try and coax them to talk and feel safe around me. As their parent, you probably already know what happened but I need to hear it from them in their own words and what it made them feel. We have to lay the foundations for a relationship of trust and I have to try and put them at ease as much as possible.
After I have found out what has caused them so much stress and anxiety I will begin to work on how to deal with the emotions attached to it. We will talk about breathing and learning to calm themselves if they feel they are getting anxious.
Then we will try and talk about “naming “ the feelings the child has from the experience. What do I mean by this? I will ask the child how it made them feel? They may use the words angry, upset, unhappy, or scared. By putting a name to the feelings we can deal with them individually and it doesn’t seem so overwhelming.
We will also talk about understanding why they are having these feelings, which of course could bring them to the surface but we will try and teach your child how to deal with them. Your child could just be feeling angry but we need to get under that emotion and see what other feelings your child is experiencing.
I may ask them to write about the experience and the emotions that go within in a journal. Above all I want your child to be able to move on from their experience and be able to deal with the emotional side effects that the experience has brought them.
It takes time to build any relationship, especially when there is trauma involved but I have worked with kids and teenagers for many years and have my own kids and their emotional baggage so if you will let me, I will help your child and you get through this.
Jimi D Katsis is a Bristol based consultant psychotherapist at jimikatsis.com specialising in recovery from trauma, depression, and anxiety