Trauma therapy: Helping teens build resilience

When your teen’s struggles are rooted in past trauma, it can be easy to lose hope. Shelterwood’s trauma therapy helps students to frame their trauma in a different light, building resilience and strength to move forward to a healthy life.

Trauma therapy as a clinical practice continues to evolve, and Shelterwood is at the forefront. “What we know about trauma continues to change,” says Justin Puch, Shelterwood therapist. “Children are now exposed to trauma at higher rates than we’ve seen historically, and how professionals understand trauma and its impact on individuals is shifting.”

Trauma not only impacts the emotional development of children and teens, it also impacts brain function. “We now know that when we are exposed to trauma, especially early on in life, it can literally rewire the brain to function differently. Complex trauma can even contribute to chronic health conditions.”

Central to Shelterwood’s approach to trauma therapy is creating that safe environment for teens to process. “In many families, there is an avoidance of talking about what happened, even if the trauma was no one’s fault, like a tornado for example. So at Shelterwood, we strive to create a space where teens can talk about how they feel and know that they are safe.”

Furthermore, to counteract the brain rewiring, Shelterwood therapists often utilize trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TFCBT). Based on traditional CBT, the most heavily used methodology in counseling, TFCBT aims to answer this question: how does the way we process trauma impact our everyday life?

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“I tell parents that, with trauma, treating only the symptoms will only take you so far,” Justin explains. “When you really start to process through the trauma is when you really start to see success.”

The trauma therapy experience at Shelterwood can vary from student to student, typically based on the trauma itself. For example, Justin says, processing a natural disaster would look very different from processing a violent experience. “Our goal is to guide students in thinking differently about what has happened. The focus is on telling a different story with what you have been through.”

Justin recalls a student who arrived at Shelterwood with an aggressive attitude and negative relationship with family. She began work in trauma therapy. “We started to look at how her trauma impacts how she attaches to others and what her relationships look like. We worked on helping her feel comfortable and safe enough to be vulnerable and to invite relationships into her life,” he says. “Today, she has reconnected to her parents in a very strong way, and she is in college and doing very well.”

Ultimately, Justin says, Shelterwood students build resilience through trauma therapy. “Building resilience through whatever trauma you have been through, you can be a stronger person on the other side of that trauma. Helping kids reclaim their story and tell it in a different way is a very powerful tool.”