Teen Trauma Treatment: Coping With Trauma

While more than half of American adults report experiencing at least one traumatic event in their life, less than 10% of the population will experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at some point in their lives. This suggests that it is possible to help your teen cope with trauma in a healthy way, even though the event itself may have been out of their control. The way you help your teenager handle a distressing or frightening event influences their behavior in future crises. While children and adolescents are more vulnerable to being traumatized than adults, with the right support and reassurance, they are also able to heal more quickly as their brains are still developing. If your teen is persistently depressed or anxious, or if they are coping in an unhealthy way, like using substances or self-harming, they may benefit from teen trauma treatment centers .

The guide is meant to be comprehensive, but as such, not every section will be applicable to everyone. Instead, we invite you to click on the links in the table of contents to jump to the sections that most interest you.

Table of Contents

What is Trauma?

Traumatic experiences are different for everyone, based on their own perceptions and feelings. What might seem like a normal, but unfortunate part of life could have a much greater impact on your child who has never experienced it before.

Signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder refers to the psychological and physiological impact of a traumatic event rather than details of the event itself. 

Emotional & psychological symptoms may include:

  • Recurrent and distressing re-experiencing of the traumatic event in the form of dreams, thoughts, or flashbacks
  • Emotional numbing and avoidance of anything that may trigger memories of the trauma
  • Repetitively thinking about the event and talking about it often
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Feeling disconnected or numb
  • Isolating or withdrawing from others
  • Returning to younger ways of behaving including giving up responsibilities or a sudden return to rebellious behavior

Physical symptoms may include:

  • A permanent state of increased arousal
  • Difficulty sleeping, insomnia or nightmares
  • Fatigue or dissociation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Racing heartbeat

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Risk Factors for PTSD

While certain events are assumed to be more traumatic than others, some teens are more vulnerable to being traumatized by an event than others. Some of the factors that may contribute to developing PTSD may include:

  • The event itself
  • The context of a person’s life at the time of the traumatizing event
  • Physical characteristics of the individual, such as age or fitness level
  • A person’s learned capabilities
  • The individual’s experienced sense of their capacity to meet danger based on internal and external resources

Types of Traumatic Events

  • Big T Trauma: There are a wide range of events that can lead to post-traumatic stress, including physical or sexual violence, emotional abuse, bullying, natural disasters, car accidents, life-threatening illnesses, or witnessing acts of violence. The type of event does not necessarily determine how someone will respond. Most people who experience the same events process them differently, which make it hard to predict how someone will adjust following an event. 
  • Little t trauma: Research suggests that traumatic stress can occur following major life transitions and conflict in relationships, especially when accumulated. While these events may not sound significant enough to lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress, over time, they affect one’s ability to cope and respond appropriately. Other examples include bullying, consistently not meeting academic expectations, verbal or emotional abuse from a trusted adult, or the loss of one’s friend group. 

The Impact of Traumatic Events

Anxiety. One of the most common reactions to stressful life events is significantly increased levels of anxiety. This can lead to panic attacks, flashbacks of traumatic events, or a generalized fear or avoidance of doing many of the things one used to enjoy. 

Attachment Issues. In the aftermath of a traumatic event, teens who develop attachment issues will have difficulty not only with forming healthy bonds with other people, but will also possibly have control issues, anger issues, underdeveloped conscience, and aversion to physical touch.

Social Struggles. Especially following relational trauma, like bullying, domestic violence, or rejection, teens have a tendency to generalize their experiences in some relationships to a wider range of social situations. As a result, they may become socially withdrawn or develop social anxiety around interactions with even close friends that they used to trust. Fears about repeated trauma can make it harder for them to stay connected in relationships and to develop new relationships. 

When Does Your Child Need  Teen Trauma Treatment?

Addressing trauma in the teen years helps teens resolve many of the inner conflicts they face and helps them build resilience as they enter adulthood. Teens are often vulnerable to the impact of traumatic events as they are old enough to understand what has happened in their lives but have yet to develop the skills to cope with stressful life events. If your teen has experienced childhood trauma or a recent traumatic event that has led to identity issues, attachment issues, and heightened anxiety and has interfered with their ability to remain present in the day-to-day, they may benefit from trauma treatment. 

Teen Trauma Treatment Options 

Effective treatment of trauma means shifting the focus from “what’s wrong with you?” to “what happened to you?” as it relates to symptoms, reactions, and behaviors. Trauma-informed care calls for providers to opt for whole person care and this is exactly what we do at blueFire Wilderness. By using multiple modalities to get to the root of the trauma while providing a relationship-based setting and program, we have seen powerful changes in students that otherwise were not seeing shifts prior to enrolling.

Types of Therapy for Trauma

It’s important to note that there isn’t one therapeutic approach that will heal individuals heal from trauma, which is why blueFire employs a number of evidence-based approaches that have been shown effective for our students. Healing the underlying trauma is the best way to ensure that teens develop healthier coping mechanisms and a stronger sense of self.

  • Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) 
  • Family Therapy
  • Somatic Experiencing
  • Yoga

Teen Trauma Treatment Goals

  • Identifying triggers for intrusive memories and flashbacks
  • Using grounding techniques when overwhelmed
  • Reconnecting with the present moment
  • Establishing future personal goals
  • Rebuilding trust with others

How Does Wilderness Therapy at blueFire Help Teens Struggling with Trauma?

At blueFire Wilderness, we recognize the impact that your teen’s history of trauma can have on the entire family. Therefore, we encourage parent involvement through a parallel family therapy process. Family therapy is particularly beneficial for teens who have experienced childhood trauma, as it gives them a space to process their attachment issues and what they want to improve in their relationship with their parents. Wilderness therapy offers a healing atmosphere for teens to process their trauma and develop a stronger support system, with distance from triggers they experienced back home that may have gotten in the way of them being able to focus on themselves.

Through experiential therapy and adventure activities, teens begin to reconnect with their core values and discover their personal strengths that they may have questioned following experiencing trauma. The activities offered at blueFire Wilderness set them apart from other wilderness programs that focus more on outdoor skills and backpacking. Aside from being enjoyable, these experiences simultaneously teach self-reliance and help teens build confidence.