Trauma does not discriminate. It is experienced by individuals across all races, all ethnicities, all religions, and all ages. Trauma can be experienced in many different forms, such as the loss of a close loved one, abuse, assault, accidents, violence, etc. Many forms of trauma, such as abuse will warrant a report and immediate intervention in order to prevent prolonged exposure to abuse. If you are the target of abuse or suspect abuse being perpetrated to another identifiable individual, it is important to speak up. Mental health professionals, in addition to other professionals who have direct contact with children, hold the role as a mandated reporter. This means they are required to report suspected abuse, such as child or elder abuse/neglect. However, if it is suspected that a child is being exposed to domestic violence, it is not mandatory to report this in Pennsylvania. In addition to exposure to domestic violence, other examples of common ongoing traumas include, but are not limited to: community violence, in-school violence (e.g., bullying), and cyberbullying. These traumas are not reportable in the state of Pennsylvania. Therefore, exposure to these types of trauma may be consistent, severe, and chronic and have a serious impact on an individual’s psychological well-being over time. It is important to adjust treatment to prolonged exposure to trauma, as opposed to treating past trauma only.
Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is an empirically based intervention used to treat individuals who have experienced past traumas, but this model can be adapted to treat individuals experiencing ongoing traumas. The main components of TF-CBT include: psychoeducation, parenting skills, relaxation skills, emotional regulation skills, cognitive coping skills, trauma processing, mastery of and exposure to trauma reminders, conjoint child-parent sessions, and enhancing safety. When treating individuals with ongoing trauma, it is critical to conduct an initial assessment of safety including any risks posed by the perpetrator who may still reside in the home, as well as any risks posed by the youth’s disclosure of trauma to others. It is important to create a safety plan to ensure the child has a person or “safe place” (e.g., church, YMCA, etc.) as a source of comfort within an unsafe environment to help the individual feel more empowered. Furthermore, including the non-offending parent or guardian in sessions with the child when the child reads their version of the traumatic experience may validate the child’s experience, increase parental empathy and support, and counter parental minimization (e.g., “my child barely saw anything”). Lastly, clinicians should help the client differentiate between past danger, reminders of past danger, and current real danger. After this differentiation is made, negative reactions to past trauma and reminders of past trauma can be processed instead of being fearfully avoided.
If you or someone you know is being abused/neglected or you suspect that someone may be experiencing abuse/neglect, please call 1-800-932-0313 to file a report. If you have personally experienced trauma and would like to speak to a mental health professional, please call us at (215) 487-1330 or email us at Greenridge@intercommunityaction.org for more information about our counseling services.
Author: Samantha Algauer, M.A., LAC, NCC