Answers to common questions about childhood traumatic stress

Q & A

Akron Children’s Center for the Treatment and Study of Adverse Childhood Events provides these answers to questions about child traumatic stress.

What is child traumatic stress?

Child traumatic stress occurs when children and adolescents are exposed to traumatic events or traumatic situations that overwhelm their ability to cope with what they’ve experienced.

Although some children and adolescents may recover quickly after adversity, traumatic experiences such as experiencing or witnessing a serious injury or physical/sexual/emotional abuse can result in significant disruptions in child or adolescent development with profound long-term negative consequences.

What is trauma?

Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and has lasting adverse effects on the individual's functioning and physical, social, emotional and/or spiritual well-being.

Traumatic experiences can induce feelings of powerlessness, fear, recurrent hopelessness and a constant state of alert. Trauma impacts one's spirituality and relationships with self, others, communities and environment, often resulting in recurring feelings of shame, guilt, rage, isolation and disconnection. Healing is possible.

What are traumatic events?

Traumatic events and circumstances may include the actual or extreme threat of physical or psychological harm or the withholding of material or relational resources essential to healthy development. These events and circumstances may occur as a single occurrence or repeatedly over time.

The individual's experience of these events or circumstances determines whether the event is traumatic. A particular event may be experienced as traumatic for one person and not for another.

Situations that can be traumatic include:

What is medical traumatic stress?

Pediatric medical traumatic stress refers to a set of psychological and physiological responses of children and families to pain, injury, serious illness, medical procedures and invasive or frightening treatment experiences.

Up to 80% of children and their families experience some traumatic stress reactions following life-threatening illness, injury or painful medical procedures. In addition, 20-30% of parents and 15-25% of children and siblings experience persistent traumatic stress reactions.

What is trauma informed?

Trauma informed (TI) is an approach to engage people with histories of trauma that recognizes the presence of trauma symptoms and acknowledges the role that trauma has played in their lives.

What is trauma-informed care?

Providing trauma-informed care means incorporatinganunderstanding of the impact of traumatic stress in routine interactions with children and families. It’s based on an understanding of the vulnerabilities or triggers of trauma survivors that traditional service delivery approaches may exacerbate, so that these services and programs can be more supportive and avoid re-traumatization.

As a result, providers can change how children and families respond to and cope with emotional reactions to traumatic events, including illness and injury, and reduce the impact of difficult or frightening medical events.

Trauma can be both a medical and psychological event in the eyes of children and families experiencing serious illnesses, injuries or painful procedures.

What is trauma focused-cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT)?

TF-CBT is an evidence-based therapy designed to help children, adolescents and families who have experienced a traumatic event that may impact their quality of life. TF-CBT is a short-term treatment that lasts between 12-16 sessions.

What is an evidence-based practice?

Prevention or treatment practices that are validated by some form of documented research evidence.

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