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Published on March 01, 2016

Guiding Teens Through Trauma and Treatment

March 1, 2016

teen with parents standing in the backgroundTraumatic events can tear a teenager’s world apart. Know the signs to watch for and have your talking points ready.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network says that if an adolescent—or anyone in his or her social circle—experiences community violence, the aftermath of a natural disaster, verbal or physical assault, or any number of tragedies, mental health can be affected, ultimately leading to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Be prepared to talk with your teen about trauma if these symptoms surface.

  • Emotional overload. It is common for a teen to battle awkwardness during puberty. Look for spikes in anger or sadness. Kids can also become obsessively social or unusually reclusive.

  • Changes in routine behavior. Your child may revisit a traumatic experience in his dreams, leading to sleeping problems and anxiety. His dietary habits and eating patterns may change. Check up with his mentors, teachers or coaches and see how he behaves during school hours.

  • Physical sickness or addictive tendencies. Emotional trauma can cause waves of nausea, even when medical tests are unable to determine a cause. A child may also turn to drugs or alcohol to numb feelings of shame or dread, according to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Watch for increased agitation and deceptive behaviors.

If you think therapy is necessary, talk to your teen about what to expect. If you’ve gone through therapy yourself or know someone who has, paint a visual picture of what sessions generally include.

Finding a Therapist

It's vital for a child to feel comfortable with her therapst. Shop around until you find someone you trust.

  1. Research therapists near you. See who is out there and then make sure the therapist is a right fit as you’re narrowing down options. You might be able to find a therapist who specializes in the type of trauma your child is facing.

  2. Think connection over expertise. Feel free to make appointments with multiple potential counselors and see how your child responds to each, and how the counselor responds to both you and your child. The framework for success relies on the strength of the client-therapist relationship, so take time with this decision.

  3. Make sure your schedules align. It doesn’t matter if the therapist is the right fit if they have no available spots to see you. See what options they can offer you and how they handle themselves as you talk through options. Remember they are on the same team as you, so these initial conversations should be inviting and ultimately reassuring that this is a good fit for the long haul.

KishHealth System Behavioral Health, now part of Northwestern Medicine has many qualified counselors and therapists. Find more information at


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