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Mental Health PTSD Recovery

Treating PTSD in Children and Adolescents

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is not just for adults:Blossom©saritzrogers

it also occurs in children and adolescents. Children and teens that witness violence and have post-traumatic stress symptoms require psychological care, but studies are suggesting that while children may experience the full range of post-traumatic stress symptoms, the manifestation of symptoms can differ from that of an adult.

 

The Journal of Pediatric Psychology says, “in the DSM-IV, eight criteria require verbal descriptions of experiences and emotional states. The lack of developmental modifications may result in an under-diagnosis of PTSD. “(Pynoos, Steinberg, & Goenjian, 1996). Scheeringa et al. (1995) Additional  “evidence suggests that children may experience disabling PSS (post-traumatic stress symptoms) that warrant treatment, but not meet criteria for PTSD (Carrion, Weems, Ray, & Reiss, 2002).

 

What has become crucial in defining this diagnosis for adolescents is the way in which clinicians understand how PTSD presents in youth. There is still a debate within the field of pediatric psychology about whether or not distinct youth criteria should be established — thus far, post-traumatic stress symptoms have been assessed primarily using criteria outlined for adults.  When assessing youth for PTSD, the adaptation for youth includes the “simplification of language and concepts.” However, there continues to be discussion amongst clinicians about the need for separate qualifiers for youth.

 

Symptoms of PTSD might include classic stress responses such as nightmares, fear and a general response to distress, but according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, there may be some symptoms unique to children and adolescents like:

 

  • Reenactment of the event
  • Regressed behavior
  • Separation anxiety,
  • Specific forms of behavioral, academic, and somatic problems”

Did you know: Between 25 and 87% of youth report experiencing at least one traumatic event before age 20, with girls reporting more episodes (Elklit, 2002)

 

Noelle Rodriguez, Psy.D. and Visions Outpatient Psychological Assistant shared some of her experience working with teens who suffer from PTSD. She listed some of the manifestations she sees and how she helps treat them:

  • High levels of depression because PTSD is misdiagnosed
  • Inability to formulate trusting relationships
  • Drug use to attempt to access or regulate feelings

Noelle also finds teens with PTSD also present with some or all of the following:

  • Poor time management
  • A need to find a voice but feels silent inside
  • Loss of self, feeling fragmented
  • Somatic symptoms i.e., body pains, headaches, etc.
  • Disassociation
  • Sexual promiscuously–looking to feel connected
  • Paranoia
  • Lack of boundaries, which leads to more mistrust

Noelle takes her PTSD clients through a process of deep, insightful work that helps them strive toward shifting their paradigm to include:

  • Empowerment;
  • Sobriety (if applicable) on their own terms;
  • Replacing maladaptive behavior with healthy behaviors, for example:
  • Learning to ask for help, finding a support group, becoming able to  recognize and identify PTSD symptoms before they have a chance to fully manifest
  • Self-care
  • Learn how to identify danger vs. safety
  • Develop tools with which to to deal with blame, shame and doubt
  • Time management
  • Honesty in relationships
  • Finding their voice and learning how to speak up for themselves
  • Learning to get grounded when one is in emotional pain.

 

Peter A. Levine, Ph.D, originator and developer of Somatic Experiencing and the Director of the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute has transformed the way in which I personally view PTSD.  He says in his book In an Unspoken Voice, “I hope to convey a deeper appreciation that their lives are not dominated by a ‘disorder’ but by an injury that can be transformed and healed.” Like Noelle, he talks about the need for someone working with PTSD to learn to self-regulate. Levine says this self-regulation “allows us to handle our own states of arousal and our difficult emotions,” and that it is what fosters the ability to “evoke a sense of being safely ‘at home’ within ourselves, at home where goodness resides.” Trauma work is a deep process. It involves learning how to hold ourselves with a sense of compassion while we look at the darkness that has swaddled our hearts.

 

So whether or not the DSM catches up, knowing that we have clinicians who are well versed in trauma work and who are willing to guide our youth to recovery is profound. Triggers eventually become tools we work with instead of against. And ultimately, with deep, consistent work, we develop the skills to change our relationship to our trauma and to heal.

Categories
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Mental Health Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Recovery Therapy

Body-Focused Repetitive Disorders

Trichotillomania (TTM) is a type of body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) specifically characterized by impulsive pulling out of one’s hair from the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, or elsewhere on the body. According to the DSM-IV of the American Psychiatric Association, TTM must meet the following five criteria:

  1. Repetitive pulling of one’s own hair that results in noticeable hair loss.
  2. A feeling of tension prior to pulling or when trying to resist the behavior.
  3. Pleasure, gratification, or relief while engaging in the behavior.
  4. The behavior is not accounted for by another medical (or dermatological) or psychiatric problem (such as schizophrenia).
  5. Hair pulling leads to significant distress or impairment in one or more areas of the person’s life (social, occupational, or work).

Though this criteria is useful, there is some debate within the clinical and scientific communities about whether or not all five of these criteria are present in every case. Since there are many who suffer from debilitating hair pulling behaviors but don’t meet all of these criteria, efficient and effective treatment is still paramount to one’s health and well-being.

Signs and symptoms of Trichotillomania often include:

  • Repeatedly pulling your hair out, typically from your scalp, eyebrows or eyelashes, but it can be from other body areas as well;
  • A strong urge to pull hair, followed by feelings of relief after the hair is pulled;
  • Patchy bald areas on the scalp or other areas of your body;
  • Sparse or missing eyelashes or eyebrows;
  • Chewing or eating pulled-out hair;
  • Playing with pulled-out hair;
  • Rubbing pulled-out hair across your lips or face.

Onychophagia (nail-biting) and Dermatillomania (skin-picking) are other BFRBs but are characterized by compulsive skin picking and nail biting. Nail-biting is the most common of “nervous habit.” I’m not talking about the occasional cuticle or hangnail, or the occasional blemish that someone may pick or squeeze. Instead, someone who suffers from onychophagia picks or bites their nails or skin until they bleed, finding themselves using Band-Aids like accessories. As those suffering from TTM will wear hats to cover bald spots and the like, nail-biters will keep their hands in their pockets, sit on them, wear gloves or those Band-Aids I mentioned. Those who excessively pick at the skin on their faces will try to cover up with makeup or when things get really bad, go so far as to stay inside and isolate. I mention these two together, because they often make intermittent appearances in the same individual.

Nail-biting (onychophagia) facts include:

  • Common in individuals of all ages.
  • Up to 33% of children ages 7-10 bite their nails.
  • Nail-biting can be triggered by stress, boredom, or nervousness.
  • About half of all children between the ages of 10 and 18 bite their nails at one time or another. Nail-biting occurs most often during puberty.
  • Some young adults, ages 18 to 22 years, bite their nails.
  • Only a small number of other adults bite their nails. Most people stop biting their nails on their own by age 30.
  • Boys bite their nails more often than girls after age 10

Chronic skin picking (dermatillomania)is characterized by:

  • Inability to resist urges to pick at real or perceived blemishes in one’s skin
  • For some, mounting tension before one picks
  • For some, gratification and relaxation while picking
  • Noticeable sores or scarring on the skin
  • Increased distress and/or interference with daily life

BFRBs have been linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). They can sometimes be linked to a sign of emotional or psychological disorders. They are all compulsive disorders, but their manifestations have varying presentations: For some, the picking or pulling will occur during sedentary activities like watching TV, reading, driving or being a passenger in a car, talking on the phone, sitting in class, or sitting at a computer or a desk. At times, there might be focused intent which drives the behavior–for example, planning on picking or pulling at an area as soon as one arrives home. At other times, it’s happens without conscious awareness, and the individual only realizes they’ve picked or pulled when they see the resulting pile of hair, open scabs or bleeding fingers.

This can feel overwhelming, but there is help. For starters, you have to say something to someone and let them know you’re suffering.  Your doctor and/or therapist will then work with you and help you redirect the negative behaviors and create new, innocuous behaviors.

The following therapeutic modalities are typically used to treat BFRB:

(Sometimes, elements from some or all of the aforementioned modalities are used to meet the BFRB client’s needs.):

Alternative therapies are also used, but are not as researched or predictable in terms of their success.

Support groups can provide a wonderful place for fellowship and to create positive social reinforcements.

Keep in mind, What works for one person may not work for another. The key will be in finding the treatments that do work and committing to them. Nothing is impossible, but everything takes effort. Feeling better is worth your treatment endeavors.

 

For more info, check out:

https://www.trich.org/

Mayo Clinic

https://www.trich.org/dnld/ExpertGuidelines_000.pdf