All children and teens experience stressful events that can affect them physically and emotionally. Most of these reactions are brief, and children recover without any further problems. However, a child or teen who experiences a catastrophic event may develop ongoing problems with their reaction, called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The precipitating event may have involved the threat of someone’s life, sexual abuse, domestic violence, car accidents, natural disasters, or being diagnosed with a chronic condition. The risk for a child developing PTSD is related to the severity of the trauma, whether or not the trauma was ongoing, the child’s involvement in the trauma, and his or her relationship to the victim. If your child has been struggling with PTSD, you may feel helpless and unable to comfort your child. You may feel responsible for the incident or incidents and struggle with feelings of guilt and shame. The caring staff at Ascent Children’s Health Services is available to help your child overcome post-traumatic stress disorder and go on to lead a happy, fulfilled life.
Why Seek Treatment for Childhood PTSD?
Following a traumatic event, your child may be agitated or confused, afraid of everything, and feel helplessness, anger, sadness, horror, and denial. Children who undergo repeated trauma may develop a coping mechanism called dissociation, which is an emotional numbing to reduce or block the pain of the event. You may notice your child refuses to go to places that remind him or her of the event as he or she becomes increasingly depressed, withdrawn, and detached from his or her feelings. These symptoms can last for months to years after the trauma.
Once a traumatic event or events have occurred in a child’s life, early intervention is necessary and essential to the child’s continued growth and development. A day treatment program is one of the best ways for a child to come to terms with the trauma and avoid any long-lasting ill-effects of the event. A program that offers a multidisciplinary team of childhood specialists under one roof is one of the best ways to cope with the aftereffects of trauma and PTSD, as it allows for collaboration among the disciplines in order to provide the best treatment plan for a child who struggles with PTSD.
Program Philosophy and Benefits
At Ascent Children’s Health Services, we realize that each family who brings their child to us is a unique family unit and that each child who needs our help is an individual with his or her own needs and life experiences. We never take a one-size-fits-all approach to PTSD treatment in children. Instead, we focus upon the child’s needs and experiences to guide us to a treatment plan that allows for healing of the whole child – mind, body, and spirit. Ascent strives to enhance the emotional, social, cognitive, and physical development of each child we meet and promote independence and hope for recovery. Ascent ensures that each child who comes to us for help gets the most appropriate and effective level and types of treatment he or she needs to heal.
Treatment Options for PTSD at Ascent Children’s Health Services
When you come to us with a referral from your child’s doctor, we’ll first administer a battery of tests to determine how severe your child’s PTSD is, the precipitating traumatic event, presence of co-occurring mental health disorders, and other pertinent details. The results of these assessments will tell us how to begin treatment for your child. Many children who have PTSD find that their symptoms go away within a few months. However, there is a subset of children who will display symptoms for years if they do not seek proper treatment. Treatment options for working with a child who has PTSD will vary based upon the situation, past experiences, and the way in which the child is experiencing symptoms. Treatment options for childhood PTSD may include:
Individual Therapy: Through individual therapy, your child will explore his or her feelings about the traumatic event, work through feelings of guilt, mistrust, and self-blame, learn coping skills, and help control intrusive memories. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a treatment approach that works well for children who have PTSD. During CBT, your child will carefully – under the supervision of the therapist – be introduced to thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind your child of the event at his or her own pace. Therapy will also involve identification of upsetting, distorted, and irrational thoughts about the event and replacing them with a more appropriate way of seeing the world. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is another form of therapy we may use for children who have PTSD. This therapy combines cognitive therapy with directed eye movements or other movements that work to “unfreeze” the brain’s informational system, which is disrupted during times of stress.
Play Therapy: When younger children live through a traumatic event, they may not have the ability to vocalize their emotions. Play therapy may be used to help children who are unable to cope with the trauma in a more direct route. One of our therapists will use games, drawings, and other methods to help younger children process their traumatic memories and experiences.
Group Therapy: Ascent provides a number of specialized group therapies to help children who are struggling with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Groups may focus upon coping skills, anger management, deep breathing, and appropriate social interaction. Through group, your child will be able to process some of the emotions about the trauma in a safe, secure, and supportive environment filled with peers who have struggled with similar traumas.
Family Therapy: PTSD affects the family as a whole, so including loved ones is vital to any child who is in our care. We hold family sessions no less than one time per month, and these sessions focus primarily upon the child’s progress. We’ll work with you to promote positive interactions, develop coping skills, and help you learn to help your child as he or she is learning to cope with PTSD.
Medications: While there are no drugs that can treat post-traumatic stress disorder, if the symptoms of the disorder are severe, your child’s pediatrician may recommend a short course of anti-anxiety agents or antidepressants to help stabilize your child’s symptoms so that he or she can best engage in the therapeutic process.
In addition to traditional therapeutic methods, Ascent is proud to offer experiential services that allow for healing of the whole child. These methods may include:
- Sensory rooms
- Therapy gym
- Nutrition and wellness
- Feeding clinic
Continuing Care and Levels of Treatment
Ascent Children’s Health Services is proud to offer the full-spectrum of care for children at multiple locations. Our Child Health Management Services (CHMS) offers care for children struggling with developmental disorders and medical conditions as a day treatment or outpatient service. Our Rehabilitative Services for Persons with Mental Illness (RSPMI) treats children who have behavioral and mental health conditions that need our specialized care. RSPMI is also offered on an outpatient or day treatment basis. We also offer a summer program for school-aged children who will then return to school in the fall, as well as a school-based program for children who may require mental health services in their school system.
Each year, your child will undergo evaluations to determine their continued eligibility and to measure their progress. If it has been determined that your child no longer needs our services,
Ascent offers a full discharge transition process to ensure that there is an aftercare plan in place. Some children discharge from our day treatment to outpatient therapy, while others may discharge from outpatient therapy into school-based therapy. We’ll continue to monitor your child’s progress through scheduled in-home visits.