Trauma and Healing

As you develop your relationship with your mentee, you will probably encounter all the ordinary troubles of childhood—trouble with schoolwork, anger at parents or peers, self-doubt, and many other challenges that we remember from our own childhoods. A mentor is there to help take the pressure off by being an accepting and positive presence. But sometimes it may seem as if there’s something else going on, something disproportionate that might have a deeper underlying cause. If you see severe disturbance, deep anger, extreme misbehavior or violence, very excessive drug use, or deep depression, your mentee may be suffering the effects of trauma.

More likely than not, everyone will experience very disturbing events at some point in their lives.  The death of a loved one, a rough divorce, a car crash, a personal failure, or being the victim of a crime: all these and events like them can be very difficult to work through.  A person suffering through this level of trauma may react with shock, anger, fear, or grief.  As they recover, however, these reactions will gradually fade. More serious traumatic events, like the 9/11 catastrophe or the Newtown shootings, can have effects that last much longer. But for most of us, a single traumatic event is unlikely to create severe and lasting disturbance.
 
There are, however, much more serious forms of trauma that leave lasting damage. Physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse, especially if it continues over weeks, months, or years, can damage a child’s fundamental identity. Neglect and emotional abandonment can be as bad or worse. Trauma of this kind can create disturbances that can lead to lifelong problems with rage, fear, drug and alcohol abuse, and a whole range of other behavioral, psychological and physical challenges.

How likely is it that your mentee might have encountered severe trauma?

Of the 22.3 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 years, approximately 1.8 million have been victims of serious sexual abuse; 3.9 million have been victims of serious physical abuse; and almost 9 million have witnessed serious violence. Due to the secret nature of abuse, it is difficult to determine precisely how large of a problem childhood abuse really is. Single occurrences of trauma in a child's early developmental stages can in some cases impact them later in life; however it is far more common for chronic trauma to cause long-term negative effects on the individual. (“The Long-term Effects of Childhood Trauma and Abuse,” Lori Travis, 2008).

Serious trauma actually changes the structure and chemistry of the brain. There are many potential effects, including but not limited to:

  • Severe anxiety

  • Self-injury

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

  • Phobias

  • Depression

  • Drug abuse requiring the help of a drug rehab facility

  • Insomnia

  • Promiscuity

  • Difficulty in learning, struggling in school

  • Suicide

  • Eating disorders

  • Extreme anger and hostility

  • Personality effects like dissociation or obsessive-compulsive disorder

All these phenomena are tell-tales of severe trauma. If you observe, or if your mentee tells you, of experiencing conditions like these, it may be appropriate for CADA to assess the situation. This is definitely an area in which you will want to consult your Mentor Advocate. The Advocate will arrange for an appropriate response to your mentee’s needs.

If you suspect the presence of trauma in your mentee, it’s important to be aware that the Mentor role doesn’t include providing any form of therapy. The effects of trauma are not something that a non-professional can fix.

Nevertheless, the mentee will benefit enormously from your attention and presence. Trauma can leave victims feeling isolated and alone, and it can gravely damage their self-esteem. By being a constant, reliable, accepting presence, you can serve as an anchor and a refuge for your traumatized mentee. It can be especially helpful to encourage and praise your mentee, to do all you can to help him believe that he is worthy of care.

Resources:

The popular literature on childhood trauma and recovery is largely oriented toward healing the effects of single, relatively rare traumatic events, like the Boston bombings or the Columbine massacre. There is some information available on the more common and more damaging forms of childhood trauma.

How to Identify If a Child Has Been Traumatized by an Event

Child Development and Trauma Specialist Practice Resource: 7-9 Years.”
This online resource created by the Australian government is meant for medical and psychological professionals, but it’s intelligible for ordinary mortals. It’s a valuable, brief, comprehensive overview of the various effects of trauma on kids at this stage of development.
 
Ways to Help Your Child Deal with Trauma
An entry-level discussion of trauma and healing.

The Long Term Effects of Childhood Trauma and Abuse” (Lori Travers, 2008).
This is a scientific paper, but not too technical. It’s a valuable, well-researched review that can give you a sense of how widespread and serious the problem is.

Recovering from Trauma
A four-stage model of recovery from single traumatic events.

Herman’s Stages of Recovery
A three-stage model of recovery from traumatic experiences, including sexual experiences, by an influential expert on trauma and recovery.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Best to Treat Childhood Trauma
Follow the link to the description of the nature of cognitive behavioral therapy.

Children Can Usually Recover from Emotional Trauma
A New York Times article on single-occurrence childhood trauma.

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