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Understanding Adolescent Trauma

teenager sitting on floor with head in their hands hoping for insight into understanding adolescent trauma

Experiencing trauma while still developing emotional resilience can be especially difficult for younger people. The support of a comprehensive trauma therapy program can help teens recover from the effects of adolescent trauma. Call Imagine Nampa today at 888.503.4604 to learn more about our trauma therapy program.

What Causes Adolescent Trauma?

Trauma is an emotional response to a life-threatening or adverse experience. Everyone handles stress differently; some children are better equipped to process a traumatic event than others. Some of the factors that influence a young person’s ability to recover from trauma include the age at which the traumatic event occurred, the support they received, and some preexisting mental health conditions.

Trauma may be caused by:

  • Childhood abuse
  • Being a victim of or witness to violence
  • Divorce or the loss of a parent
  • Extreme poverty
  • Sexual assault
  • Chronic illness
  • Living in a war zone or being a refugee
  • Natural disaster
  • Life-threatening accident or illness

There are three main types of trauma: acute, chronic, and complex.

  1. Acute trauma relates to trauma that develops from a single incident, such as being in a car accident.
  2. Chronic trauma refers to repeated exposure to trauma, such as consistently experiencing violence in the household.
  3. Complex trauma describes multiple traumatic events. A child who is abused and put in a foster home where their needs are neglected is at risk of developing complex trauma.

Understanding the Effects of Adolescent Trauma

Most people experience trauma at some point in their lives. Still, the trauma that occurs during childhood or adolescence can severely affect a young person’s ability to navigate the world.
Studies on trauma have shown that adverse experiences actually shape the developing brain. The changes made by trauma can cause both emotional and cognitive difficulties that can persist throughout a person’s life.

The effects of adolescent trauma can often mimic the signs of a defiance disorder or ADHD. Parents and other care providers may assume a child is “acting out” when they are actually suffering from the stress caused by trauma. Signs of trauma in adolescence may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Nightmares and intrusive thoughts, including flashbacks
  • Angry or emotional outbursts
  • Physical symptoms, such as stomachaches, headaches, or digestive issues
  • Insomnia
  • Hypervigilance
  • Avoiding people or places that remind them of a traumatic event
  • Risk-taking, including engaging in risky sexual behavior
  • Experimenting with drugs or alcohol
  • Suicidal ideation

Trauma can make a young person feel angry, guilty, and disconnected from others, even those who are trying to help them. Teens with extreme mood swings or a sudden change in their behavior or emotional state may struggle with emotional trauma.

Therapy for Adolescent Trauma

Fortunately, the effects of adolescent trauma can be minimized with the proper support and counseling. A comprehensive treatment program designed especially for teens focuses on regulating emotions and empowering young people to feel safe again.

If they have developed a co-occurring disorder, such as depression or substance use disorder, treatment should address those issues simultaneously. One condition can adversely affect the other, so it is crucial to address both together.

Some of the evidence-based therapies used to treat adolescent trauma include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Cognitive processing therapy
  • Exposure therapy
  • Medication

Developing a mindfulness practice that includes meditation or yoga is also helpful. Mindfulness techniques help to retrain the brain to be present in the moment and not focus on the past or worry about the future.

Imagine Nampa Offers Treatment for Adolescent Trauma

If a teen in your life has been through one or more traumatic events or is showing signs of trauma in adolescence, the compassionate team at Imagine Nampa can help. Call Imagine Nampa today at 888.503.4604 or contact us online for information and support.