Skip to content

Treatment for PTSD in Teens

How Post-Traumatic Stress Affects Teens

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the most commonly known trauma disorder. Estimates from the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs suggest that anywhere from 15 to 43 percent of girls and 14 to 43 percent of boys experience at least one significant form of traumatic event in their lifetime. Among these kids, about 3 to 15 percent of girls and 1 to 6 percent of boys go on to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD is a serious and often debilitating condition with a wide range of symptoms and different levels of severity.

PTSD is characterized by symptoms of intrusive, unwanted thoughts and memories of the event, physical symptoms (including panic attacks and hypervigilance), and mood changes, among other key symptoms. While traumatic events are objectively defined, trauma itself is subjective – what affects one person might affect the next differently, and there’s no telling how any given stressful event can impact your mental health, or your loved one’s mental health.

Traumatic events differ in type and severity. Most people experience trauma through personal violence, victimization, assault, suicide, natural disasters, car crashes, or abuse. Certain risk factors amplify the possibility of struggling with PTSD, including trauma severity, the reaction of those around you to a traumatic event, and stressful recurrences.

Not all trauma is direct. Indirect trauma can also cause symptoms of PTSD, through secondary or second-hand trauma. In addition to PTSD, trauma can result in other trauma-related disorders, such as acute stress disorder and reactive attachment disorder.

Treatments for PTSD differ based on the circumstances of a teen’s condition, their co-occurring mental and physical health, and how they respond to individual treatment attempts. While there are no medications to treat symptoms of PTSD, some teens with PTSD might be prescribed medications to deal with other co-occurring conditions or symptoms, such as panic attacks, generalized anxiety, or long-term depression.

Therapy is usually at the heart of a successful PTSD treatment program, but so is a long-term plan. Unlike acute stress disorder, PTSD symptoms can last for years.

Teens struggling with PTSD will generally do worse than their peers in school and may have a hard time keeping up. Prioritizing treatment or seeking residential care while continuing school – through our treatment programs at the Arrow House – can help teens keep up with their peers while getting the help they need to manage PTSD symptoms in the years to come.

Identifying Signs of Post-Traumatic Stress

Post-traumatic stress disorder usually develops weeks or months after the triggering traumatic event. While the onset is delayed compared to an acute stress disorder, PTSD is often long-lasting, and sometimes lifelong. If your family or your teen has recently been through a traumatic event, there is a chance that they might be experiencing PTSD as a result.

However, a thorough psychological assessment is needed for a proper diagnosis. We provide psychological assessments at the Arrow House, ensuring that every client is given a treatment plan that matches their needs and circumstances.

In general, the diagnostic criteria for PTSD require that a person exhibits one or two of each of four major categories of symptoms. These are:

Re-experiencing Symptoms:

  • Nightmares and other dreams.
  • Recurring negative thoughts and intrusive thoughts.
  • Flashbacks
  • Sudden physical signs of stress and panic, with or without a specific trigger.

Avoidance Symptoms:

  • Avoiding places and people that remind you of the trauma.
  • Avoiding thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that are related to the trauma.

Reactivity Symptoms:

  • Heightened sense of fear and agitation.
  • Easily startled.
  • Engaging in self-destructive behavior.
  • Highly irritable with a shorter temper.
  • Always on edge, and on guard.

Mood and Cognition:

  • Chronically low mood.
  • Distorted memories of the event.
  • Missing bits and pieces of information.
  • Anhedonia, or a lack of the ability to feel joy.
  • Loss of interest in old hobbies.
  • Difficulty concentrating and focusing on tasks at school.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must exhibit at least one re-experiencing symptom, one avoidance symptom, two reactivity and arousal symptoms, and two mood and cognition symptoms, for a period of at least one month. The diagnostic criteria are similar for adolescents.

Only a healthcare provider can determine whether a teen’s symptoms indicate PTSD, or whether a different stress or anxiety disorder best fits their case. Sometimes, certain symptoms of PTSD can be mistaken for depressive or mood disorders, anxiety, or even a brain injury from the physical trauma of the event.

Treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress

PTSD is primarily treated through individual and group therapy. There are a number of effective and accredited treatment modalities for PTSD, each of which has its own merits and considerations. A holistic treatment approach will take all factors into consideration before creating a patient-specific plan, which may include treatment modalities such as:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: CBT focuses on helping teens identify and separate irrational or intrusive thoughts from healthy, normal thoughts, and reinforce positivity and a healthier mindset through healthier behaviors. The idea is that taking control of your thoughts and actions can help influence your emotions, which feeds back positively into your thoughts, and your actions. CBT is a guided process and takes time.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: This is a special form of therapy where breakthroughs are made through a technique that involves utilizing the eye’sfocus on an object to disarm a teen’s hypervigilance and help them delve deeper into their memories and emotions.
  • Animal-Assisted Therapy: Working with animals can help us calm down, be more passive, be empathic, and reduce stress. Equine therapy and other animal-assisted therapy methods can help teens stay calm while talking to a therapist or working in a group setting to address their anxieties.

Long-Term Treatment Through the Arrow House

A dedicated inpatient treatment program can help teens with PTSD reduce their worst symptoms, and develop the tools needed to manage stressors and triggers. But a key element of our residential program is incorporating a trained support system in every teen’s life.

We strongly believe that an intensive residential program can help prepare teens for the road ahead, but still serves as just the first step on a long journey.

Our family therapy modalities help a teen’s relatives and trusted loved ones prepare themselves for their roles in the coming years and continue to support their teen’s treatment as time goes on. Contact us to find out more about our treatment programs and long-term family therapy plans for PTSD.