Archive for January 2010
How do children deal with the traumatic and the unexpected?
The recent natural disaster in Haiti has brought out emotional reactions in all of us. As adults, whether it’s through the internet, newspapers, television, or conversations with our peers, we’re able to process and understand the unfortunate and traumatic events that have unfolded in one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere.
But what about children — do they truly understand what happened in Haiti? Are they are able to process the horrific events, and if so, how are they affected?
Vicki Hyman of the Star Ledger spoke with Clinical psychologist Monica Indart to help answer those very questions, and to offer parents the proper strategy in how to talk with their children about what happened in Haiti. Indart says that talking to your child in the right manner about what happened to the people of Haiti can do them a lot of good. “Parents can discuss the tragedy in a way that can teach children empathy and even empower them,” writes Hyman.
Q. How aware are children of global tragedies that may not touch their families directly?
A. I think, because it is really a global marketplace, kids are much more aware than they were 20 years ago. Schools do a better job of connecting kids with other parts of the world, other situations in the world. It just depends on the family and the schools. I’d be really surprised if kids don’t have some awareness of this.
Q. Can preschoolers or children even younger than that pick up on tragedies like this?
A. The younger the child, the more they’re aware of the emotions of their parents and the people around them. Kids who are younger don’t have a developed language, and they really focus on emotions around them. They can pick up on distress and sadness and anxiety even more so than older kids.
Q. What’s the best way to approach grade-schoolers about this tragedy?
A. In language that’s appropriate for them, explain to them there’s been this disaster, this earthquake, this event that happened in another part of the world, and a lot of people have died, and a lot of people are suffering, and this is where people can, must, do something to help. It’s the first lesson in empathy and aid, and I think parents can use it that way. Do it in small doses. Don’t wait until the child asks you something; be proactive and help your child understand what is happening.
Click here to continue reading Indart’s answers to other questions such as “What would a good conversation starter sound like,” and “Is it a good idea to get youngsters involved in relief efforts?”
Indart recommends the American Psychological Association (apa.org) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (fema.gov/kids/teacher.htm) as two sources that offer tips and strategies on how to help kids deal with disasters.
Does anyone else know of some other resources that can also help children deal with trauma in a healthy way? Please leave us a comment and let us know.
Dr. Indart’s bio:
Monica Indart, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 25 years of experience working in the related fields of crisis intervention, trauma, and grief and loss. Dr. Indart earned her doctorate degree in clinical psychology from the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers University, where she has been a visiting faculty member for the past ten years. She worked as a field operations and clinical supervisor for Project Phoenix, New Jersey’s federally-funded 9/11 response program, for four years, and assisted New Jersey’s Disaster and Terrorism Branch in establishing a disaster crisis counselor certification program. For the past five years, she has provided consultation and training to the United Nations on issues related to crisis intervention, trauma, grief and loss, and psychosocial support programs for staff on peacekeeping missions.
One of our recent posts titled “Prevention: An Emerging Frontier in Mental Health” brought to light some of the latest research efforts by both the mental health industry and the U.S. military to prevent post-traumatic stress.
While PTSD certainly isn’t the only area of focus that this blog has and will concentrate on, we couldn’t help but share the results of a new study. Furthermore, the results of this study coincide with something that trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk mentioned in our last post.
According to research conducted by the U.S. Naval Health Research Center, administering morphine to military personal immediately after sustaining serious injury could help to prevent the development of PTSD. According to Van der Kolk, the idea of treating PTSD with opiates has been around for decades.
The U.S. Naval study, referred to as “provocative” by the Associated Press, followed about 700 troops between the years of 2004 and 2006:
“It was surprising how strong the effect of the morphine was,” said study leader Troy Lisa Holbrook, an epidemiologist at the naval center. The findings were published in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine.
“This idea that medicine can be used in the wake of a trauma to diminish the risk of developing a significant psychiatric disorder is incredibly important,” said an expert who was not connected with the study, Dr. Glenn Saxe, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for Refugee Trauma and Resilience at Children’s Hospital Boston who conducted the studies on burn patients. “If the findings hold up,” he said, “the implications are huge and go well beyond the military” — for example, to civilian hospitals, where victims of rape and other terrifying ordeals may benefit.
While this one study has seen some success with the administration of morphine, the experts are quick to note that the use of narcotics to treat and/or prevent PTSD has big-time drawbacks:
Dr. Saxe and other experts cautioned that any benefit must be stacked up against the drugs’ risks: they are habit-forming with repeated use, and can blur memories of events that can be life-changing.
What makes the idea of using a drug like morphine to treat PTSD controversial — besides the addictive drawbacks — is that to date, the “official” means of treatment for post-traumatic has merely involved cognitive therapy.
I’m sure there are some differing of opinions on this topic, and we’d love to hear them — leave us a comment!
“Trauma disturbs the primal instinct of purpose,” writes Raymond Bokenkamp in his blog post titled “Restoring the primal instinct of purpose.” Bokenkamp — contributing author to blog.HealthPanda.com — attended Bessel van der Kolk’s two-day workshop in Lenox, MA titled “Frontiers of Trauma Treatment.”
Mr. Bokenkamp would like to share what he learned from the workshop with our readers:
The later morning session was by Van der Kolk on the basics of trauma. His lecture was easy to understand and is based both on research as well as 30+ years of working with trauma patients.
His basic premise was that even though trauma may have happened in the past, it can still be present now [if] there is still attachment to it. The most effective way to release this trauma is through what Darwin called the “Pneumogastric Nerve”, where the heart, guts & brain come together for all animals including humans.
The attachment is important, because when trauma happens it’s not the extend that makes it a traumatic event it’s the attachment to the unresolved issue. His examples were that soldiers in Vietnam who took heroin had much less PTSD due to the non-attachment to the experiences while there (and since heroin addition is situational, the soldiers could relatively easily kick this habit). Another remarkable example was that the level of PTSD of NYC citizens that survived 911 was very low due to the fact that this community came together and was able to resolve the internal emotions as a group in a safe environment.
When trauma is not released, the animal, back part of the brain stays in constant flux and the person lives in what can be described as a state of nothingness. This is the same for animals. Trauma disturbs the primal instinct of purpose.
The solution is through the body since the central nerve to the visceral system comes from the gut. Motion is very important factor in releasing trauma as well as getting in tune with the body. In the end it’s about giving the brain tools to restore itself as well as the primal instinct of purpose. The problem with medicine is that it’s only a bandage and it’s effect decreases quickly as time progresses.
It was a great morning session. Bessal shared his adventures to South Afrika with Bishup Tutu and Nelson Mandela as well as other remarkable experiences from his professional life.
Van der Kolk’s mention that soldiers in Vietnam who took heroin had fewer cases of PTSD coincides with a “provocative” study from the U.S. Naval Health Research Center.
Coming Up Next: Can Morphine Help Prevent PTSD?
While “TraumaLines.wordpress.com” is just getting off the ground, we’ve published some incredible articles so far. Let’s take a second and recap all the Trauma Lines blog posts up until this point.
(12/31/09) “Prevention: An Emerging Frontier in Mental Health“: is a short exploration into how prevention is becoming a powerful strategy to preserve mental health:
“Major strides have been taken to predetermine which individuals are more susceptible to post-traumatic stress. Unfortunately, mental health professionals, like Dr. Robert Heinssen of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), will reluctantly tell you that they don’t quite have stress risk predictions completely figured out.”
Click here to continue reading ‘Prevention.’
(12/29/09) “Notes from the Field,” written by Francois de la Roche, is a first-hand story of how one CTR’s career progressed right alongside his industry’s care for their members:
“In the early 1980’s, when I started international relief work, we were still accepting hand-written reports, unless you brought along a portable typewriter as part of your personal kit. Cellular telephones didn’t exist, so if you were in an isolated field post, you depended on your high-frequency radio for contact with head quarters and the outside world. Living conditions varied widely, in most cases, where the work needed to be done, living conditions could be primitive, or as I recall with fondness “rustic.” We lived, ate and shared the life of the local population — including local problems as well as larger geo-political challenges affecting the communities we were serving.”
Click here to continue reading ‘Notes.’
(12/24/09) “A Father’s Journey from a Daughter’s Perspective,” written by Deborah Donnelly, is the story of a Holocaust survivor’s “never ending road of healing” told through his daughter’s eyes:
“There is a name for who I am: a “2G.” A “2G” means that my parents are Holocaust survivors. It was an eye opening experience for me when I found out that there was a label that both describes and has come to define a significant aspect of my belief system. It has become my passion to strive to accept people for who they are, and never tolerate, but fight against genocide, ethnic cleansing and the like.”
Click here to continue reading ‘A Father’s Journey.’
Readers: Leave us a comment; let us know how we’re doing so far!