The four W’s (and an H) of Trauma Treatment
When Should I Ask for Help from a Mental Health Provider?
There is no correct timetable for recover. Some children/teens will recover quickly. Other children recover more slowly. Some families get better with time and the support of others. For families having ongoing distress, crises, or trouble meeting their children’s needs, trauma treatment from a mental health provider (i.e., psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, counselors) is available to help your family seek safety, grow stronger and recover. Not getting help can have long-lasting consequences but, fortunately, entering treatment can have concrete beneficial results.
What kind of mental health provider do we need?
Many families first discuss their concerns with a family physician, school counselor, or clergy member, who may refer them to a specialist such as a child or adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist. Ask your pediatrician, family physician, school counselor, or clergy member for a referral to a mental health professional. Today, many family practitioners work with a team of providers, including mental health providers, and can refer you to someone they know and trust. Ask close family members and friends for their recommendations, especially if their child or adolescent has had a good experience with psychotherapy.
When seeking help for your child, you will want to try to find a mental health provider who meets these requirements:
- Has experience in helping families overcome traumatic stress
- Offers services near your home or is easy for you to get to
- Uses evidence-based practices (EBP), that is, treatments proven to help all members of the family:
- Feel safe
- Learn about trauma and its effects
- Cope with difficulties caused by the trauma
- Recognize and build on the family and family members’ strengths
- Talk about ways to get the family back on track
How do I choose a therapist or counselor who’s right for my family?
There are many types of mental health providers, including psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, and licensed counselors. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications because they are physicians. Mental health professionals who are not physicians can provide therapy and often work with psychiatrists and family physicians to ensure that their patients can receive any needed medications. Psychologists are skilled in evaluation and in various forms of intelligence, personality, and psychological testing. What’s important is that you select a provider with appropriate training and qualifications. Once you have the name or names of several mental health professionals in your area, call and interview them over the phone to determine which is the best match for you and your family.
What can my family expect from therapy?
There are many approaches to outpatient psychotherapy, which may occur in individual, group, or family sessions. Treatment for your child may involve the following:
- Talking with your child or having him or her draw or play with toys in order to get a better understanding of what he or she is experiencing, feeling, or thinking
- Asking about your child’s experience of the traumatic event, and other areas in his or her life, such as how the child is getting along with family, friends, teachers, and other students in school
- Assessing your child’s strengths, skills, and talents, as well as problems
- Engaging with your child (while taking into account age and emotional maturity) to try to understand the traumatic experience, including the ways it has affected daily life
- Teaching a variety of evidence-based treatment techniques such as relaxation methods and problem-solving skills, and including, in some cases, interventions with the school and family or referral for medication
The goal of treatment is to help your child to address feelings of helplessness and worries over safety and to identify helpful thoughts and actions. Because trauma can interrupt a child’s normal development, therapy helps in reducing the symptoms of child traumatic stress, as well as offering your child support and guidance to return to age-appropriate activities. Your child’s therapist will probably ask for your participation and cooperation, because these are extremely important to the recovery of your children and the well-being of your family.
Many effective treatments include cognitive behavioral principles:
- Education about the impact of trauma
- Helping children and their parents establish or reestablish a sense of safety
- Techniques for dealing with overwhelming emotional reactions
- An opportunity to talk about the traumatic experience in a safe, accepting environment
- Involvement, when possible, of primary caregivers in the healing process
What Are Evidence-Based Practices (EBP)?
Not all treatments will help your child. Researchers constantly evaluate treatments to find the ones that work best. Providers who use treatments based on scientific research are using what is called “evidence-based practices.” EBPs have been proven to work.
Feel free to talk to the staff here at Mercer County CAC and we can try to answer any other questions you might have on this topic.