The Effects of Trauma on Children and Adolescents

Posted by: Asa Don Brown on mai 23, 2012 4:40 pm

And finally I twist my heart round again, so that the bad is on the outside and the good is on the inside, and keep on trying to find a way of becoming what I would so like to be, and could be, if there weren’t any other people living in the world. 

                                                                                                       ~ Anne Frank

Traumatic experiences incurred in early childhood can have an egregious effect upon the human condition including: the psychological, physiological, neurological, emotional, social, and academic readiness and preparedness for life. 

One of the greatest challenges posed to professionals is that,  “childhoood trauma does not come in one single package.” (Brown, 2008, p. 5) Therefore, making the diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis is the Achilles heel of the therapeutic process. 

“Traumatic experiences can derail the child’s readiness to learn, either temporarily or for the long term, through such mechanisms as hyper-vigilance, constriction of exploration, misattribution of hostile intention of others, preemptive and self-protective aggression, generalized fears, and preoccupation with internal processes so that attention is deployed to the self rather than to the (learning and academic) environment.” (Osofsky, 2004, p. 115)


“Children who are resilient often have an appearance of a Teflon® coating: nothing seems to faze these children. Whether they are capable of sloughing off the traumatic event, or they are truly resilient is something that is difficult to measure.” (Brown, 2008, p. 40) Even if we could measure the effects of these associated traumatic events, the difficulty lies in the child’s familial and socioeconomic environments which have an outlying effect upon the child’s perceptions and worldviews, and thus resiliency.  “Is resiliency a collaboration of parental care giving and nurturing as well as the natural tendency to rebound?” (Brown, 2008, p. 40)

“What determines why one child can prove resilient while another child cannot?” (Brown, 2008, p. 40) The factors are many; but simplified, it is the protective factors that act as an insulator safeguarding a child from potential harm. 

“It is commonly-and-erroneously-assumed that children are resilient and that their reactions to disasters are fleeting.” (La Greca et. al., 2002, p. 4)


A child with a secure attachment to either mother and/or father, has a greater propensity of overcoming a childhood traumatic experience, if the natural bond is securely established.  The attachment itself acts as a adhesive firmly connecting the child and parent together.  Whereas, a child who is lacking a parental attachment, has a higher probability of developing chronic psychological issues. 


The effects of childhood traumatic stress cannot only alter the psychological conditioning of the human psyche, but can have a profound effect upon the overall physiological state of the human condition. 

The effects of traumatic stress has been shown to cause severe psychological impairment throughout the neuroendocrine system.  Unresolved traumatic stressors can play havoc on the psychology and physiology of the human condition including:  disruption of critical central nervous system integration and functioning during childhood development, deregulation of brain functioning and capacity to harness the necessary basic regulatory processes.


Symptoms of traumatic experiences frequently include, but are not limited to the following:

  •   Hyperarousal:  anxiety, an increased startle response, reduction in pain tolerance, insomnia, lethargy, sluggishness, having a remarkable effect upon the physiological and psychological self.
  •  Loss of interest in social environment, academic, work, and other normal routines
  •  “Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness (not present before the trauma)…” (AMA, 2000, p. 468)
  •  Suicidal ideation
  •  Expressions and feelings of social isolation and alienation
  •  Difficulty concentrating and expressing thoughts and/or feelings
  •  Hypervigilance: an increased sensitivity, abnormally increased arousal, abnormally responsiveness to stimuli, constant screening of personal surroundings and environment, that is not otherwise diagnostically defined.  (van Rens LW, et. al., 2012; Fisher, 2005; Peters, 2005; Allen, 2004; Corsini, 2002; AMA, 2000)


A child who has incurred a traumatic experience without proper care, has a higher likelihood of developing longterm psychological and physiological challenges in life.  The therapeutic environment is essential for developing, treating, and monitoring a patient’s / client’s care.  Furthermore, it is essential for providing aide to familial and outlying individuals who may have either witnessed and/or vicariously been victimized by the traumatic event.  If you suspect that your child, or a child you know has incurred a traumatic experience, it is essential that you refer that child to a practitioner who can properly offer therapeutic treatment. �
Author:   Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C.

Allen, J. G. (Ed) (2004) Coping with trauma, Hope through understanding (2nd ed) Washington, DC:  American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc. 

Bremner, J. D., et al. (1999) Neural correlates of memories of childhood sexual abuse in women with and without posttraumatic stress disorder. American Psychiatric Association. 156: 1787-1795 

Brown, A. D. (2008) The effects of childhood trauma on adult perception and worldview. Minneapolis, MN: Proquest LLC 

Cobia, D. C., Sobansky, R. R., & Ingram, M. (2004) Female survivors of childhood sexual abuse: Implications for couples’ therapists. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy Couples and Families. 12 (3) 312-318 

Corsini, R. (2002) The dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge 

Duran, B., Malcoe, L. H., Sanders, M., Waitzkin, H., Skipper, B., & Yager, J. (2003) Child maltreatment prevalence and mental disorders outcomes among American Indian women in primary care. Child Abuse & Neglect 28 (2004) 131-145. 

Fisher, G. (2005) Existential psychotherapy with adult survivors of sexual abuse. Journal of  Humanistic Psychology. 45 (1) 10-40 

Le Greca, A. M., Silverman, W. K., Vernberg, E. M., & Roberts, M. C., Ed., (2002) Helping children cope with disasters and terrorism. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. 

Osofsky, J. D., (Ed.) (2004) Young children and trauma, Intervention and treatment. New York,   NY: The Guilford Press. 

Peters, H. (2005) Pretherapy from a developmental perspective. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 45 (1) 62-81 

Sattler, J. M. (2002) Assessment of children, Behavioral and clinical applications (4th ed.) San Diego, CA: Jerome M. Sattler, Publisher, Inc. 

van Ren, L.W., de Weert-van Oene G. H., van Oosteren, A. A., & Rutten, C. (2012) Clinical treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder in patients with serious dual diagnosis problems. Tijdschr Psychiatry. 54 (4): 383-388

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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