Childhood, it’s one of the most important and influential phases in our lives, our childhood experiences can shape and transform the way we view the world and ourselves. For most people, childhood has a large impact on their adult life. Unfortunately, many of us carry trauma from our adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s) which can result in a variety of problematic behaviors and can even impact our health. Childhood trauma is a serious and prevalent issue, with nearly half of children in the U.S. having experienced at least one or more types of serious childhood trauma. So, while we do our best as parents to protect our children, it is important to acknowledge that childhood trauma is still prevalent and exists in many forms. Here we will discuss what trauma is, the broad types of childhood trauma, and the services and treatment available to help overcome childhood trauma.
What is Trauma?
The term trauma describes an emotional response to a distressing or disturbing experience. If not handled properly, trauma can have an impact on a person’s ability to cope and function. In some cases, trauma can lead to the development of mental health conditions, most notably post-traumatic stress disorder, which may cause flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, avoidance, and other changes in mood or thinking.
Trauma can have substantial impacts on our health and wellbeing, especially when we experience serious trauma in childhood. Childhood trauma has physical effects on the brain, this type of trauma damages the brain by triggering toxic stress, which can rewire our brain structures. Childhood trauma is so impactful because our brains are so malleable and still in development during this phase in our lives.
Broad types of Childhood Trauma
Adverse childhood experiences are forms of highly traumatic experiences that children or adolescents under the age of 18 have dealt with, typically for an extended period of time. The CDC determined 10 events that may occur in childhood which are considered adverse childhood experiences. These 10 events are separated into 3 broad categories for trauma which include abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. Below are these 3 main categories of ACE’s and their subcategories according to the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study.
- Household dysfunction
- Mental illness within the family
- Mother treated violently
- Incarceration of a family member
- Substance abuse
Childhood trauma is a serious issue and can lead to many health complications later in life if not taken care of. ACE tests can be given to determine your individual ACE score. ACE scores lie anywhere between 0 and 10 with the higher numbers indicating more experiences of serious childhood trauma. For example, a person with an ace score of 4 or more are twice as likely to become smokers and seven times as likely to become an alcoholic than those with a score of 0. Research from the Byron Clinic shows that some of the worst health and social problems can arise as a consequence of childhood trauma. The higher the number of ACE’s is per individual the higher the risk for consequential health problems becomes. Examples of the kind of health problems associated with ACE’s that may appear later in life include:
- Alcoholism and substance abuse
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Ischemic heart disease (IHD)
- Liver disease
- Early death
- Risk of partner violence
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s)
- Suicide attempts
- Unintended or early pregnancies
Prevention Methods for Childhood Trauma
- Strengthen economic support to families. Promoting policies that are family-friendly help provide the resources parents need to raise their children. Economic stability in families is important in preventing childhood trauma and hardships.
- Promote social norms that protect against violence and adversity. Public education campaigns, legislative approaches, and prevention groups are all good examples of promoting a societal outlook strongly against violence or abuse.
- Ensure a strong start for children. Outside resources may be able to provide additional support children need when growing up. High-quality childhood care, after school programs, school enrichment with family engagement and more help to ensure children get the strong start they need.
- Teach skills. It’s important to teach our youth about safe dating, healthy relationships, and social-emotional learning in order to help prevent and navigate life’s challenges. Additionally, teaching parents parenting skills and family relationship approaches can help to prevent more of these challenges.
- Connect youth to caring adults and activities. Helping to connect youth with healthy adult relationships and enjoyable activities helps children to cope with the difficulties they are facing. Promoting mentor programs and after-school or summer programs can help reduce difficulties with trauma in children.
- Intervene to lessen immediate and long-term harms. In serious cases it may become necessary or helpful to intervene with a clinical professional. Therapy, treatment centers, family-centered care and rehabilitation are all proven and effective mechanisms to help reduce the harms associated with trauma.
Residential Treatment Services for Childhood Trauma
All of these risks may sound scary, but they are the reality of untreated trauma. Parents do the best they can to protect their children, however sometimes in life there are things we cannot avoid and it is incredibly important not to turn a blind eye to potential sources of trauma. If you know or suspect your child has experienced one or more adverse childhood experiences, it is crucial that you seek professional help. Fortunately, there are many resources and services available.
Residential treatment centers, such as wilderness therapy programs, provide the care, time, and space adolescents need to overcome childhood challenges and traumas. Wilderness therapy programs consist of residential treatment in a wilderness setting. The approach to treatment is more holistic than a traditional residential treatment center but incorporates traditional therapeutic techniques and practices. In wilderness therapy programs adolescents are expected to sleep, cook, and eat outdoors in the wilderness setting, actively engage in outdoor activities or adventures, and practice deep introspection into their personal lives. When treating trauma in the wilderness practitioners aim to provide short-term intensive intervention therapy, centered around behavioral/emotional stabilization, psychological assessment, and building insight and motivation towards positive change.
In a recent study analyzing the effectiveness of trauma-informed wilderness therapy with adolescents, researchers found that this approach to treatment showed significant improvements in the psychological, family, and psychophysiological functioning of adolescents. This means that the mental health, family relationships, and physical health of adolescents improved after participating in residential wilderness therapy programs to treat trauma.
In wilderness therapy, healing trauma happens through a combination of individual and group therapy sessions, in addition to the “built-in benefits” of living in a wilderness and group setting. These “built in benefits” refer to the community building aspect as well as the benefits of nature on our emotional and physical wellbeing that wilderness therapy programs provide. In addition to these benefits, wilderness therapy programs designed for treating trauma work intensively with trauma-focused evidence-based treatment modalities. These treatment modalities include trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, identity disorders, and anxiety issues, all which may be associated with childhood traumas.
How Red Mountain Colorado Can Help
At Red Mountain Colorado we specialize in the treatment of trauma-related mental health challenges, to help provide adolescents with the resources and skills they need to live happy, healthy, and productive adult lives. Throughout the program, we work on empowering teens to develop healthy coping mechanisms, habits, and new skills they can use to help navigate challenges in their own personal lives.
When a teen struggles with multiple emotional or behavioral issues at once, like depression and anxiety, this is referred to as a dual diagnosis. Our structure is designed to treat dual diagnosis disorders, it is quite common to see dual diagnoses in trauma patients, as their risk for mental health struggles increases after experiencing trauma. When teens arrive at the treatment center, staff assess students for underlying mental health symptoms and a history of trauma. These assessments allow us to take a tailored and integrated approach to set up a path for psychological wellbeing.
If you believe a wilderness therapy program may be a good fit for your teen Red Mountain Colorado is here to help. For more information on our programs and their success in teens, please visit our website or call us at (970) 316-7589.