Not all individuals who experience childhood trauma are at risk for long-term health consequences, and in addition to proper psychological care, a big part of a successful recovery process will depend on the strength of a personal support network.
Jones said an individual’s support system, prior to and following an adverse experience, can ultimately change the projected negative health outcome. If an individual has close ties to family, friends, community, or a religion, Jones said the patient is less likely to suffer long-term health consequences. In the case of the Thai cave rescue, the group’s coach, who’s spent the last decade as a Buddhist monk, reportedly taught the 12 boys to meditate to help them through the 17-day ordeal. CNBC previously reported that meditation experts from Stanford University, contributed this tactic to their survival.
“We have a deep understanding of who will do well during a traumatic event of this nature,” Jones said. “We’re able to determine who is going to do great, who is going to do okay, and who will do poorly, based on a number of protective and resilience factors,” he said.
Some individuals will develop strong coping mechanisms following traumatic experiences, possibly protecting them from breaking under future traumatic events. But these are more likely to be the exceptions.
“There are some individuals who will do better after a traumatic event, but many more will do worse,” Jones said.
Research shows that treatment methods for PTSD — cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychopharmacology — in children and adults is somewhat similar. Clinical psychologists will use CBT to train patients to re-evaluate their thinking patterns and assumptions in order to identify unhelpful patterns and replace them with healthy and effective thought processes. This form of psychotherapy is intended to help patients conceptualize their trauma and develop effective coping skills. It has been clinically proven to work on both children and adults.
Brown said the key distinction with children is their dependence on others. “The main difference is that for treatment of children you need to involve the caregiver of the families.” Brown said caregivers of children with PTSD are often vulnerable to suffering themselves, due to guilt. As a result, parents also need to be treated in order to recover from their child’s trauma.
“All the literature says the effective treatments include that of the caregivers,” Brown said.
Researchers say that one of the main challenges in overcoming PTSD in children is getting kids into treatment. Some of the most severely traumatized children with never seek treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 13 to 20 percent of children living in the US experience a mental health disorder each year — a trend that is growing. However, only 22 percent of those who would benefit from treatment are receiving it, according to Mental Health America. Both studies suggest that a lack of access to healthcare and a lack of a collaborative family unit, are the main reasons children go untreated. And getting children into treatment sooner rather than later is critical. “The earlier you intervene, the more helpful it is. The longer it goes untreated, the longer the pattern goes on.”