Therapy That Works...

Complex Trauma In Children - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Watch Dr. Sylvia Gearing discuss Judge Adams and complex trauma in children on CBS 11 - click here.

With the recent shocking video of Texas Judge William Adams beating his daughter, many people are wondering what kind of horrors may be lurking in their own neighborhoods. Many people do not fully understand trauma and how it can affect children and adolescents who are traumatized in their own homes.

How does physical and emotional abuse affect a child?

It is completely disastrous. The harm to a developing child is much more serious than to an adult. Adolescence is one of the worst times to expose a child’s brain to violence of any kind. Their brains are still developing and the brain can be fundamentally de-regulated during the most important years of development. The emotional parts of the brain are over-stimulated and they do not develop in unison leaving the child more vulnerable to a host of mental health issues including anxiety, depression, addictions and post-traumatic stress disorders. Such conditions have massive effect on the child's personality, how the treat others, and the choices that are made in jobs, spouses, and education. This is kind of child abuse can have lifelong effects.

Does parental physical abuse affect the child more than other kinds of abuse?

Without a doubt, physical abuse from a parent is much more devastating to the child. We know that trauma is worse when someone we know—a friend, neighbor or even acquaintance--inflicts it. Suddenly, someone you know trust is now a threat, and mistrust of others is a natural consequence.

In cases in which the parent inflicts the abuse, the betrayal is even more traumatic. We underestimate the effect that a parent’s cruel and abusive behavior can have on a child. The one person in the world you were supposed to trust—your parent—has now turned on you.

Worse then that, the behavior is legitimized by the rest of the family. There is nowhere for a young child to turn. The abuse is “crazy making” since the parent who has abused their authority is unapologetic, and the other family members blame you for the family turmoil. Children in this situation commonly develop complex traumatic disorder as a result of the chronic cruelty.

What is Complex Post-Traumatic Syndrome?

We now know that the most powerful determinant of psychological harm is the severity of the traumatic event itself. This new disorder goes beyond the traditional descriptions of post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychologists now understand that psychological stressors reside on a complexity continuum. At one end are single-incident traumatic events such as a car accident, a mugging, etc. At the opposite end are psychological responses to multiple, extended, and often highly invasive and traumatic events. Having a family member physically strike you on multiple occasions belongs in this range.

Why don't the other family members ever come forward?

Trauma occurs when you feel completely powerless. You must remember that when a person is overwhelmed by terror and helplessness, their ability to self activate is completely obliterated. When neither resistance nor escape is possible, the human self-defense system becomes overwhelmed and disorganized. We are immobilized and literally the problem solving parts of the brain shut down.

Trauma occurs when nothing you do can alleviate the outcome. Traumatic events interrupt our belief that we can control the outcome of our lives. Psychologists now believe that trauma may even deeply affect the central nervous system. Trauma victims feel that their adrenaline is constantly flowing and they are in a state of continuous alert. Victims are convinced, at a visceral level, that danger might return at any moment. They narrow their world and become terrified of new situations.

Can Post Traumatic Stress or Complex Trauma occur in events that are not life threatening?

Both can absolutely occur in events that are not life threatening but threaten us in other ways. Psychologists now believe that trauma can be incurred in a number of other non-life threatening situations, such as infidelity, in which the betrayed partner is made to feel intense fear, helplessness, loss of control, and the threat of their safety disappearing.

If you think you or someone you know may be traumatized, here are some of the top symptoms to watch out for:

Hyper-arousal: The person has a persistent expectation of danger and is overly reactive to stress.

Intrusive Thinking: The victim experiences repeated thoughts and memories from the trauma. Intrusive thoughts reflect the indelible imprint of the traumatic moment.

Emotional Constriction: People who have been victimized are often so overwrought with emotion that they try to avoid and restrict their emotional responses to everything. The constriction reflects the numbing response of surrender.

We know more about trauma than we ever did. The success rates for professional treatment are excellent and the sooner you address these issues, the better.

How To Talk To Your Child About 9/11 - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Watch Dr. Milton Gearing discuss how to talk to your children about 9/11 on CBS 11 - click here.

Bullying and Children - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, August 18, 2011

As school begins in North Texas, many parents are concerned about the effects of potential childhood bullying on their child. Psychologists report that bullying has become a serious mental health issue for millions of American families with up to 30% of students reporting their involvement in bullying as either the bully, the victim or bystander. The devastating consequences of bullying can be deadly with 2/3 of school shooters report being chronically bullied in school.

Here are the specific characteristics of bullying:

Intentional Harm: Bullying in childhood is an aggressive form of intimidation that marginalizes the best of children while deeply scarring them psychologically. It is a repeated attempt to harm and to emphasize a humiliating imbalance of power and influence.

Bullying Begins Early: Research reports that almost 34% of elementary school students reported being frequently bullied at school.

Middle School Peaks: Bullying increases during transition periods such as moving from elementary to middle school. This behavior peaks in middle school.

Group Bullying: Bullying is usually a group activity. Studies show that a single child does not usually victimize kids. Bullying involves both active and passive participation by a group. The kids adopt a mob mentality as they team together to ridicule or emotionally torture another child.

Why would a child begin to bully others?

Giving What They Have Gotten: Bullies are usually kids who have been bullied somewhere along the way. Moving in and out of the two roles (bullies to victims and visa versa) seems to be the most typical pattern.

Children in Pain: They are often victims of bullying at home and have parents who have problems with anger. They identify with the aggressor and inflict pain to establish internal self-control. However, lots of kids have difficult parents and don’t go out in the world hurting others. Bullies are choosing their heinous behavior out of their own pain. These kids are in deep psychological trouble.

Bullies Know Difference Between Right and Wrong: The research about these kids suggests that these kids know exactly what they are doing. They understand the differences between right and wrong and commit the act anyway. They will lie, steal and cheat to avoid punishment and are sneaky around others.

Conscience in Some Kids: Although some studies suggest that around 40% of them have some mild empathy, another 40% are indifferent to the suffering of their victims and 20% actively enjoy the intimidation and control.

What about the new trend of cyber bullying?

Anonymous Bullies: The common denominator of all bullying is the intentional act to inflict pain on another person. Unfortunately, the anonymity of the Internet is ideal for such vicious behavior. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project in 2006, one third of students are targets at some point.

Cyber Bullying Turns Dangerous: Most of the time, cyber bullying involves gossip and rude comments that do not express direct intent to harm. Around 50% of online bullies report that they inflict such cruelty “for fun” and to “teach the target a lesson.” However, a study published in 2006 reported that 12% of teens were physically threatened online and 5% actually feared for their physical safety.

We all know that bullying is terrible, but did you know that it could have long term effects on your child?

Three Victims: Words are weapons and psychological harm is as severe as a broken bone. Bullying involves three victims—the bully, the recipient of the bullying and the witnesses to such cruelty. Victims report more internal problems such as depression and anxiety while bullies have more conduct problems, anger and alienation from school and the community. Witnesses become desensitized to the suffering of others. The long-term effects of bullying for all groups can be severe with protracted trauma, depression and resentment stretching into the adult years.

Increased Suicidal Ideation: Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine found a significant connection between bullying, being bullied and suicide in a review of 37 studies from 13 countries. Bullying victims were much more likely to think about suicide.

Parents, here's what you can do about this problem:

Stop Denying: Many adults prefer to view bullying as a normal “rite of passage” through childhood. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are millions of victims who no longer believe that adults are going to protect them and they suffer in silence.

Bystanders Are Key: Research now argues that the bystanders of bullying are one of the vital keys to decreasing this growing problem. Teaching non-bullied kids to speak up, to refuse to be an audience, to label bullying publicly and to go and get help when the situation is out of control are essential steps for parents and teachers.

Empower the Victims: Believe your child about bullying. Victims are renowned for responding ineffectively through withdrawal, denial, silence and passivity. Such behaviors “feed” the bully’s control. We need to develop the victim’s talents, social skills, physical coordination and assertive abilities. He needs to be reassured that adults will take his complaints seriously and that he must report harassment. These are teachable skills and they increase self-confidence exponentially.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics

Bullying and Teasing: Social Power in Children’s Groups, Gayle Macklem, Kluwer Academic/ Plenum Publishers, New York, 2003.Cowie and Wallace (2006)

Patchin, J.W., and Hinduja, S (2006)

"Bullies move beyond the schoolyard: A preliminary look at cyber bullying." Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 4, 148-169. Swearer, S., Espeleage, D. Napolitano,S. Bullying: Prevention and Intervention, 2009

Vossekuil, B., Fein, R.A., Reddy, M., Borum, R and Modzeleski, W (2002) The final report and findings of the safe school initiative: Implications for the prevention of school attacks in the United States. Washington, D.C: U.S. Secret Services and U.S. Department of Education

How To Help Your Anxious Child - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Watch Dr. Sylvia discuss school anxiety on CBS 11 by clicking here.

Anxiety about the new school year is a normal reaction for many children at this time of year. But what happens when your child’s anxiety becomes excessive? Keeping up with assignments, complying with teacher directives and even attending school can be difficult for some kids who are over anxious.

So, why are our children so anxious?

Anxiety is like an oversensitive alarm system. In children anxiety should be temporary and fleeting. Being temporary fearful is a normal part of handling change and stress that comes with new beginnings. Children have a great ability to internalize the comfort of their parents. However, the fear becomes an anxiety disorder when it begins to dominate the child’s thinking, emotions and behaviors. It becomes a behavioral problem when it interferes with the child’s ability to function effectively in the school setting.

The essential feature of anxiety is fear of a targeted danger and the avoidance of that perceived danger. Once the fear takes command of the mind, it builds in intensity.

The child will experience an increased heart rate, his breathing becoming shallow and quick and he may experience acute sweating.

Ironically the anxiety seems to create what the person fears the most. With children, a fear of school or of separating from home can magnify and actually produce the negative experience. Catastrophic thinking begins to dominate his mind. Anxiety is at the most basic level self-fulfilling.

One in eight children suffer from anxiety. Anxious children are at a higher risk of compromised school performance, social awkwardness and behavioral difficulties at home and in the classroom. The tragic part of childhood anxiety that the child is often unable to tell us what is bothering him. All he knows is that he sees the world as a scary place and cannot find a safe place to hide.

The most common type of anxiety at this time of year is separation anxiety:

Separation Anxiety

Normal Anxiety in the Young: Between the ages of 18 months and 3 years, separation anxiety is a normal response to separation from the mother. The child lacks an internal image of the mother and feels adrift when she is physically absent. However, by the time the child is school age, the cognitive apparatus is in place to hold the mother in permanent memory even when she is physically absent.

Returns with a Vengeance: Separation anxiety can return with a vengeance between the ages of seven and nine. The child shows an inability to separate smoothly from the primary caretaker and fails to calm down once the parent leaves. We see this anxiety at camp, on over night sleepovers and then when school begins.

Constant Worrying: The child will articulate enormous worry about something happening to the parents or a great calamity traumatizing everyone when separated. The child cannot calm and soothe himself. He cannot differentiate between realistic and unrealistic fears.

What should you do if your child is too anxious to go to school?

Things can get very serious very quickly. School refusal is most common between the ages of 5 to 6 and then again at ten and eleven. However, it can occur at various other times when there is a dramatic transition (going to middle school, high school, college). It is the ultimate expression of a child engrossed in anxiety. Physical complaints before school are common but they soon resolve if the child is allowed to remain home with the parent. Again, the child cannot tell us why he is fearful, only that school is seen as a frightening arena. There is usually a series of changes in the family that precipitates the school refusal but the child rarely sees the connection between his anxiety and the changes in his life.

Another rampant form of anxiety in kids is social anxiety:

Children often develop social anxiety especially if there has been any type of bullying in the past. He becomes hyper-vigilant with other children and fearful of embarrassment or ridicule. The child seeks to narrow his world and to withdraw from the social environment to avoid a problem.

Unfortunately, social anxiety seems to continue into adulthood and has deep roots in childhood with 15 million adults suffering from this disorder throughout the life cycle. It typically begins at age 13 and most of us suffer with it an average of ten years before we seek help.

Here's what you can do if you are concerned that your child is suffering from anxiety:

Seek to Understand: First of all, remember that your child may not be able to fully tell you why he feels fearful so be patient with him. Begin to build a mental map of your child’s life. Where does he go, whom does he like or dislike and which teacher is his favorite? Creating this map requires time and effort but it is essential if you are going to help your child overcome anxiety.

Emotionally Relating is the Ballgame: Remember that the basis of your power and influence with your child is how well you emotionally relate to your child. If you maintain an empathic, cherishing relationship, you will have an enormous ability to engage the child in exploring his anxiety.

Engage in Emotional Coaching:

1.) Engage the child in exploring his anxiety.

2.) Recognize the emotion as an avenue to conversation and problem solving. Remind him that he is bigger than the problem.

3.) Listen empathetically and validate the child’s feelings. Do not dismiss or discourage him from saying what he feels.

4.) Help your child label emotions—scared, afraid or nervous.

5.) Set limits while helping your child problem solve the anxiety. Parents often forget about this last step. Feelings are often not accurate interpretations of reality so make sure that your child is coached to face his anxiety and to continue going to school while learning how his thoughts inaccurately create the anxious feelings.

Seeking Professional Help: If parental intervention does not get the job done, find a good psychologist who can evaluate your child’s anxiety and teach him skills to calm and focus away from the anxiety and to replace negative thinking patterns and behaviors with positive ones. A great psychologist will teach you how to coach your child in the home and at school in resolving his anxiety.

Resources:

Anxiety Disorders and Phobias by Aaron T. Beck, M.D.

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman, Ph.D.

The Anxiety Disorders Association of America - www.adaa.org

The Health Benefits of Giving To Others - By Chris Gearing

Friday, April 22, 2011

Survival of the Kindest - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Developmental Cost of Emotional Abuse - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Is Humiliation A Proper Punishment? - By Chris Gearing

Monday, April 11, 2011

How To Help Your Traumatized Child - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How To Talk To Your Child About Traumatic World Events - By Chris Gearing

Monday, March 28, 2011

Recent Posts


Tags


Archive