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What Is Trauma?

People often use the word “trauma†to refer to a traumatic event. A trauma is a scary, dangerous, or violent event that can happen to anyone. Not all dangerous or scary events are traumatic events, however.

What Is a Traumatic Event?

A traumatic event is a scary, dangerous, or violent event. An event can be traumatic when we face or witness an immediate threat to ourselves or to a loved one, often followed by serious injury or harm. We feel terror, helplessness, or horror at what we are experiencing and at our inability to stop it or protect ourselves or others from it.

Often people feel bad after a trauma. Even though we try hard to keep children safe, dangerous events still happen. This danger can come from outside of the family (such as a natural disaster, car accident, school shooting, or community violence) or from within the family, such as a serious injury, domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse, or the unexpected death of a loved one.

What Is Child Traumatic Stress?

When a child has had one or more traumatic events, and has reactions that continue and affect his or her daily life long after the events have ended, we call it Child Traumatic Stress. Children may react by becoming very upset for long periods, depressed, or anxious. They may show changes in the way they behave, or in their eating and sleeping habits; have aches and pains; have difficulties at school, problems relating to others, or not want to be with others or take part in activities. Older children may use drugs or alcohol, behave in risky ways, or engage in unhealthy sexual activity.

Do Traumatic Events Happen Often?

The number of traumatic events varies. For example, between 25% and 43% of children are exposed to sexual abuse; between 39% and 85% of children witness community violence. And more than half of children report experiencing a traumatic event by age 16 (Presidential Task Force on PTSD and Trauma in Children and Adolescents, 2008).

Fortunately, even when children experience a traumatic event, they don’t always develop traumatic stress. Many factors contribute to symptoms including whether they have experienced trauma in the past (see section on Understanding Trauma for more information).

What Experiences Might Be Traumatic?

Image and video hosting by TinyPic When children have been in situations where they feared for their lives, believed that they would be injured, witnessed violence, or tragically lost a loved one, they may show signs of child traumatic stress.

The above information is from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. For more information please click here -

Parents want to protect their children from scary, dangerous, or violent events, but it is not always possible for them to protect their children from danger. After one or more traumatic events, many children do not just forget and move on. Those who develop reactions that continue and affect their daily lives—even after the traumatic events have ended— suffer from child traumatic stress. Not all children who experience a traumatic event will develop symptoms of child traumatic stress. Children’s reactions can vary depending on their age, developmental level, trauma history, and other factors.

What are the signs that a child may be experiencing child traumatic stress? The signs of traumatic stress are different in each child. And young children react differently than older children.

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The above information is from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. For more information please click here -

Many families first discuss their concerns with a family physician, school counselor, or clergy member, who may refer them to a mental health professional. But finding the right mental health provider can often seem challenging.

How do I choose a therapist or counselor who's right for my family?

There are many types of mental health providers, including psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, and licensed counselors. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications because they are physicians. Mental health professionals who are not physicians can provide therapy and often work with psychiatrists and family physicians to ensure that their patients can receive any needed medications. Psychologists are skilled in evaluation and in various forms of intelligence, personality, and psychological testing. What's important is that you select a provider with appropriate training and qualifications. Once you have the name or names of several mental health professionals in your area, call and interview them over the phone to determine which is the best match for you and your family.

Questions you may ask your mental health professional before or during services.


  • Do they conductive a comprehensive trauma assessment?
    o What specific measures are used?
    o What does the assessment show?
    o What are some of the major strengths and / or areas of concern?
  • Is the provider familiar with evidenced based trauma treatment models? For children and youth some models you might hear include: Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy; Seeking Safety; Parent Child Interaction Therapy. If you have questions about models you can check them out here.
  • o Have they had specific training in the model
    o Do they receive ongoing clinical supervision or consultation in the model
    o Which approaches do they use with children and families
  • Do they have experience in helping families overcome traumatic stress?
  • Do they help all members of the family:
  • o Feel safe
    o Cope with difficulties caused by the trauma
    o Recognize and build on the family and family member’s strengths
    o Talk about ways to get the family back on track

Portions of the above information is from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. For more information please click here -

The following site(s) may be of assistance in locating an agency that provides trauma specific services.

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OKLAHOMA TF-CBT is run through the OU Children’s Physician’s Section on Development and Behavioral Pediatrics. This site provides families with the location of agencies where therapist have been trained in the TF-CBT model through OUHSC.

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TF-CBT) is a mental health treatment model designed for children ages 3- 18 who are experiencing difficulties after trauma exposure such as sexual abuse, exposure to violence, or a natural disaster. TF-CBT is an evidenced-based intervention that is a SAMHSA best practice in the treatment of childhood posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network was established to improve access to care, treatment, and services for traumatized children and adolescents exposed to traumatic events.

Sesame Street Little Children, Big Challenges: Young children face new challenges at every age and stage—that's why it's so important to help them build the skills they need to become resilient. With self-confidence and the ability to express themselves, little ones will be able to handle whatever may come their way…and will just keep getting stronger

Child Trauma Academy brings a multi-disciplinary approach to the fight against child abuse and it’s lasting effects on the victim’s brain. Includes online training resources

Military Kids Connect is a website specifically for military youth ages 6-17

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