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Trauma-Informed Therapy During Teen Addiction Treatment

When you begin considering options for a teen addiction treatment center, you may not think you need to consider if they offer trauma therapy.

Unfortunately, many teens who begin using substances to dull pain or emotions have underlying trauma that they struggle to deal with.

That is why Ember Recovery staff are trained in trauma-informed principles to best serve the adolescents in our residential treatment program.

What is Trauma?

Children and teens can experience distressing or frightening events that lead to post-traumatic symptoms, such as a death in the family or sexual or physical abuse. Whether it’s a single event or ongoing trauma, children and teens often experience psychological, emotional, and physical distress that may disrupt their ability to function in daily life.

Though some symptoms are similar, teens handle trauma differently than adults. They may rely on their parents, siblings, or peer group for support or shut down and internalize the trauma. Eventually, it may come out in other ways, such as extreme emotions, sleep disturbances, social isolation, rebellion, and substance use.

Treating trauma requires a tailored therapy, which combines several other therapeutic interventions.

Youth Recovery House for Boys

What Is Trauma-Informed Therapy?

Trauma-informed therapy is intended for adolescents and families suffering from the effects of early trauma. Teens who have suffered sexual or physical abuse, violence, or grief, especially at an early age, have unique challenges that trauma-informed care addresses.

Typically, trauma-informed therapy includes family therapy in its approach. Trauma therapy is a recommended treatment method for children and teens who have experienced multiple types of trauma.

The trauma could be a single event, such as a significant death or one instance of abuse, to ongoing abuse that leads to post-traumatic symptoms, anxiety, or depression. It may also be used for teens with substance use problems, serious behavioral issues, suicidal ideation or self-harm, and other concerning behaviors.

How Does a Trauma-Informed Approach Work?

Children who experience a traumatic event or abuse can struggle to process it effectively. The emotions don’t go away, however, instead manifesting into feelings of powerlessness, helplessness, guilt, anger, depression, and anxiety. Left unaddressed, these teens may act out in destructive ways, including self-harming behaviors or substance use.

Often, post-traumatic stress symptoms manifest in negative, intrusive thoughts related to the trauma, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, extreme and uncontrollable emotions, and emotional numbness. These teens may also be triggered by memories of the trauma.

Trauma therapy addresses these symptoms with theories and techniques from multiple therapies, which include:

Education during residential treatment

Gradual Exposure

This process gradually introduces the teen to memories of trauma intending to recondition a healthier and less distressing response.

Coping Skills

Teens learn coping skills and relaxation exercises like acceptance, deep breathing, and mindfulness to identify and redirect negative thought patterns.


Teens are taught about the healthy reactions to traumatic experiences, giving them a deeper understanding of their feelings of guilt, shame, or anger at what happened to them. Once they learn that others feel as they do, they can view the experience more objectively.

Cognitive Processing

Cognitive processing includes developing skills to put unhelpful or destructive thought patterns and feelings into a new context and better regulate extreme emotional responses.

Parent or Caregiver Involvement With the Teen Addiction Treatment Center

Bringing a parent or caregiver into the therapeutic environment seeks to rebuild trust in adult relationships for the teen while also training the parent to be a strong and stable resource for them.

Overall, trauma therapy helps teens develop a sense of safety and security in daily life. They learn to replace negative thoughts and feelings with healthy and positive ones. The parent or caregiver also learns skills and confidence to help their teen navigate their experience with more strength and clarity.

What to Expect with Trauma Therapy

Trauma therapy is a short-term intervention, with both the child and their parents/guardian, that may last between eight and 25 sessions.

Specific behavioral techniques modify unhelpful thinking and adverse reactions and behaviors. Teens learn to challenge intrusive thoughts of fear, guilt, or shame and reorganize them more healthily.

Another component of the trauma focus is helping family members deal with their teen’s trauma and may include discussions and exercises to learn communication, practical parenting skills, and stress management techniques.

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