Using Therapy to Help Your Child Cope After a Trauma

Child talking to therapist about coping skills after a recent trauma

The use of therapy is common after a traumatic event in an effort to help both adults and children improve coping strategies. Trauma is described as an unforeseen circumstance where a person’s physical or emotional wellbeing is disturbed by the stress of the situation. Sometimes the period of grief and sadness last longer than they should. Therapy has been shown to help adults and children understand their feelings and experiences, learn healthy coping skills, connect with support resources, and grow from their traumatic experiences.

Therapy is a very personal decision and is used by many people with medical conditions. After suffering a severe spinal cord injury over 20 years ago that left her significantly paralyzed, our blog contributor, Meena Dhanjal, has found ways to adapt and live an enjoyable life with her husband and children.

Here, Meena shares how therapy has been a lifesaver for both she and her daughter as they navigated through challenging times after her fall.

Therapy as a Coping Mechanism for Children

Fifteen years ago, after my spinal cord injury, I changed my type of parenting for my then three-week-old son and my three-year-old daughter.

My daughter, who witnessed my fall from the balcony, also felt a further blow when her dad and I divorced shortly after that.

When she was born, she was a very quiet yet jolly child.  However, after my accident, she became guarded.  When her dad left, she completely refused any form of affection from me, not even responding to me saying, “I love you.”

When a child goes through a trauma, it is often thought that they are resilient and will get through it; however, I’m afraid I have to disagree.  I also know that early on, she needed therapy.  Unfortunately, finding a good therapist, and being able to afford it, was nearly impossible. Eventually, a priest referred me to a therapist who could help me as well as my daughter.

For children, therapy dynamics change compared to adults. Children have a hard time comprehending and deciphering emotions.  Without treatment, they don’t understand sadness or loss and lack vital coping skills. Therapy can help them better understand and work through difficult emotions and traumatic memories.

Medication Use in Conjunction with Therapy

I also want to be clear that while therapy is enormously useful, so is the use of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications at times.  While some patients only need it for a short time, there are just as many patients who require them on a long-term basis, and this is nothing to be ashamed of. If anything, I commend these people for having the courage to take a stand and help themselves as I did!  Now my moods are balanced and less scattered.

Guidance for Making Good Choices

We often guide our children to make good choices, but if they haven’t processed the trauma, their choices may become self-destructive.  The longer they struggle, the more profound the destructive behavior.

As adults, we’re expected to be able to cope much better than children. However, this is not always the case, especially after a debilitating injury or illness.

Taking care of my two young kids after my injury was the hardest thing I have ever done. I was less than six months into my paralysis before I had to think like a soldier, and I haven’t stopped. Some have told me that I am still in survival mode fifteen years later. I can’t entirely disagree.

Over the years, I’ve dealt with things one step at a time. Firstly, I became functional and self-sufficient, and then I bought a house and hired a nanny.

So, how do we help our children cope? And what are the resources for parents who also have to watch their pocketbooks?

Signs to Watch for in a Child

young girl wearing jeans and a jean jacket sitting and holding her face in her handsSo, here are a couple of questions that can help you decide if your child needs help:

  • Watch to see how they are processing the trauma. Is your child isolating themselves or avoiding affection from loved ones? They are most likely in fear of getting hurt.
  • Do they understand what happened and that it is not their fault? If they seem sad or unapproachable, then they are not coping.

Early intervention is essential following trauma. In my case, it was hard to find anyone that could even understand the magnitude of the changes within my children and me. Having a therapist you can relate to is as important as one you can trust.

We have all heard the saying life is what you make it, but we aren’t always equipped to handle the emotions when something terrible happens. I attribute my positive thinking to the therapy and activities in which I’ve been involved.

One thing of which I am sure is that we all have a talent.  Sometimes we just need a little help to clear the clutter so we can recognize them.

Finding a Good Therapist Near You

If you have never seen a therapist before, it is a task that requires dedicated effort and time. Many therapists offer their services but finding a “good” one that fits your concerns is not usually a quick process.

Here are a few things to consider when starting your search for a good therapist:

  • Is the therapist licensed? Only therapists with proper training receive a license, and each state is responsible for verifying this.
  • If you have health insurance, will it cover the therapy from this provider?
  • Are there limits to the number of sessions covered by your insurance?

Two websites for locating therapists or psychologists include:

  1. Psychologist Locator
  2. National Register

Another way to find a therapist is to ask friends or your physician to suggest someone they trust.

man shaking hands with a therapistHere are some helpful tips when considering what makes a therapist “good”:

  • Find out how much experience the therapist has had dealing with your specific concerns. Some therapists specialize in working with children or families and may have lots of experience with the problems that concern you.
  • Find out if the therapist uses evidence-based treatment for your concerns in their practice. Evidence-based treatments have been scientifically tested and shown to be effective. These types of treatments have had a history of success in controlled studies for treating depression, anxiety, panic attacks, bedwetting for children, and obsessive-compulsive behavior, for example.
  • Find out in advance all the details of each session, such as what the fees are, how long therapy might take, and if they accept emergency calls or visits.
  • Try to set up initial appointments with one or two potential therapists and see how comfortable you are with them. Take your time to find the right therapist for you.

Choosing a therapist is a very personal matter and takes time. It is essential that you feel a sense of trust in the person you select to provide therapy for your concerns.

About the Author

Meena Dhanjal Outlaw

On January 23, 2000, Meena suffered a spinal cord injury that left her a T12 paraplegic. She worked hard to grow and push past adversity and challenges and even went back to school for a four-year diploma in writing for teenagers and children.

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