What is Trauma-Informed Treatment for Troubled Girls?

Trauma is the most devastating emotional response a human can endure. The experience of a traumatic event can re-shape and forever alter the life of any person. This change can manifest in a multitude of different ways, most of which are destructive. Troubled teenage girls, for example, are the most traumatized demographic, turning to self-destructive behaviors and dangerous forms of self-medicating (e.g., drug and alcohol addiction). If left un-or-mistreated, trauma can easily negatively affect, ruin, or even end the life of a teenage girl. Luckily, a treatment is known as Trauma-Informed Treatment, or Trauma-informed Care (TIC), is designed to address and treat every facet of traumatization. 

Trauma-informed treatment is a psychotherapeutic treatment that posits troubled girls are more likely to than not have a history of trauma. The fundamental principles that drive TIC treatment postulate that the reason many troubled teenage girls act out in out-of-control and self-destructive behaviors, such as cutting, drug abuse/addiction, and developing an eating disorder (to name a few), do so in an attempt to self-medicate PTSD and the immense inner pain that comes along with the diagnosis. 

Trauma-Informed Therapy Programs

As its designation aptly implies, a trauma-informed therapy program is a residential treatment center hyper-focused in addressing the underlying trauma of a person rather than their superficial and negative behaviors. Whereas treatment programs often look to answer and treat teens based on  the question of “what is wrong with them?” trauma-informed treatment programs base their treatment based on “what happened to them?” 

With this level of attention being focused on PTSD, a program that utilizes FIC treatment is invariably the most optimal treatment option for troubled girls whose behavior is caused by underlying issues related to trauma. 

Trauma-informed treatment programs for troubled girls recognize the presence of trauma symptoms and the role they play in negatively impacting a troubled teen’s life in a way that other treatment programs do not invoke the same level of care or attention to post-traumatic stress cannot. 

But while treatment-informed care (TIC)-based programs emphasize addressing trauma rather than the behavior it causes, it is not a magical cure-all. It is not designed to rid a teenager of traumatic symptoms of PTSD -- such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Instead, the mission of a trauma-informed treatment program is to provide extensive support services to teenage girls whose life has become unmanageable due to underlying issues related to trauma. What’s more, a program that offers TIC treatment teaches traumatized teenage girls how to recognize their symptoms, develop strategies to confront said symptoms proactively, and finally, effectively implement stated strategies for the rest of their lives. 

An essential piece of information for parents of troubled girls to consider, according to behavioral experts, programs that do not provide trauma-informed treatment to a traumatized teen, the likelihood of triggering or worsening their behavioral and emotional symptoms dramatically increases. 

Now that we have gone over the basics of a trauma-informed treatment program, below we will discuss what makes the treatment so effective and the 6 Principals of Trauma-Informed Care that separate TIC programs from other residential treatment options.  

Psalm 91:4-6. "He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday." 

What are the benefits of a Trauma-Informed Treatment Program for Troubled Girls?

There is a multitude of multifaceted reasons and benefits of a program that uses a trauma-informed approach to its treatment -- and not only for patients but for the therapeutic professional staff as well. 

Teenage girls who live with trauma most often struggle (significantly) with maintaining a relationship, let alone open up to a therapeutic professional. Trauma-informed therapy, however, is designed to help break down the barrier between the traumatized patients and therapeutic staff. TIC improves a therapist’s ability to develop a trusting relationship with patients, which, in turn, dramatically improves the patient’s likelihood of improving their mental state with long-term health outcomes. What’s more, the trust between the therapeutic staff and patients at a trauma-informed treatment center helps reduce the burnout rate of therapists, psychiatrists, and other psychotherapeutic personnel -- reducing the staff turnover rate in the process. 

6 Principles of Trauma-Informed Treatment

A program for troubled girls that uses trauma-informed therapy must employ two things to be a legitimate TIC program: 

  1. An exhaustively trained therapeutic team is adept at giving their teenage patients the constant attention, awareness, and sensitivity that TIC treatment mandates. 
  2. And, for said therapeutic staff to strictly follow the 6 Principals of Trauma-Informed Treatment. 

Like any code of conduct for employees from any organization, the 6 Principals of Trauma-Informed Therapy at a TIC program are only as effective as the consistency with which they are followed. Therefore, for a program for troubled girls to be considered a TIC treatment center (or trauma-informed treatment center), it must demand that its staff provide and follow the following six principles: 

  1. Safety

As they say, “The most important step in a journey is the first one” The same can be said for following this principle. 

Due to the traumatic experience (or experience(s) that caused their trauma, traumatized girls often feel as though they are unsafe or are in imminent danger regardless of their current surroundings or how long ago the traumatic event took place. For a TIC treatment program to therapeutically reach a teen, they must ensure that they feel safe and supported at all times. The bottom line, a teenage girl, dealing with trauma will never be able to make any psychotherapeutic progress if she does not feel secure or trust those in charge of treating her. 

  1. Trustworthiness and Transparency

Trustworthiness between therapist and patient is paramount. 

Tragically, trauma is an experience that often leaves teenage girls with trust issues -- especially when said trauma is domestically violent, physical, or sexual in nature. Traumatized girls aren’t only (usually) closed off to the idea of treatment; they are also scared of being vulnerable or of letting their guard down in the presence of a psychotherapist. Suffice it to say, quelching a teen’s fears of opening up to a person, who in their mind, can hurt them, starts and ends with developing trust between therapist and teen patient    

Building trust between patient and counselor may be difficult initially. However, if therapeutic staff are consistently transparent and honest with their patient, trust-building (and eventual recovery) will be imminent. 

      Lamentations 3:21-23. "But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."

      1. Peer Support

      To successfully provide trauma-informed care to troubled teens, the staff of a treatment center must be deft in understanding the variations of traumas -- namely, how said different traumas affect the behaviors and emotions of an adolescent mind. By thoroughly understanding how trauma can affect a teen’s psyche, the therapeutic staff of a trauma-informed treatment program can build a reliable support system. Their patients can learn to depend on or lean on when further support is required.

      However, building a support system requires more than just the aid of the staff. A program that utilizes fair trauma-informed treatment also effectively encourages teenage patients to help and support each other. 

      Trauma is an incredibly alienating experience. So, when surrounded by others who have gone through similar harrowing experiences, teenage girls with PTSD can find solace in building bonds with peers who know exactly how they feel. 

      1. Collaboration and Mutuality 

      Staff at a trauma-informed treatment center should always include their teenage clientele when developing their individualized treatment program. Traumatized teens are much more inclined to participate in therapeutic sessions if they feel as though they are included in the remedial processes.  

        "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze." - Isaiah 43:2 (NIV)

        1. Empowerment, Voice, and Choice

        Patients in need of TIT have experienced trauma and, therefore, need help in retaking control of their lives. The therapeutic staff of a trauma-informed therapy program must reflect this notion and be capable of executing their mission of giving empowerment to their female patients. To do so, staff should encourage teens to share their personal stories to the point they feel comfortable talking to others about their past traumas and how they feel at present. 

        Trauma-informed care promotes a healthcare system that helps communities, patients, and psychotherapeutic staff heal and grow from their trauma, rather than letting their past traumatizations control their life. 

        Trauma can serve as a unifier for teenage girls, their peers, and most importantly, their trauma-informed caretakers. What’s more, teenage girls with PTSD need to feel as though they are heard and complicit in their mental health-related decisions.

        1. Cultural Issues

        To establish effective trauma-informed care, psychotherapeutic staff members need to identify and eliminate any potential cultural, racial, gender, or other biases. This can be accomplished by offering treatments that help identify, diagnose, and cater to the troubled girl’s needs. If a teen feels more comfortable accepting therapeutic counsel from female staff, for example, this request should be provided.

        Cultural differences should also be acknowledged when a patient is undergoing psychotherapeutic or psychiatric care. Staff at a trauma-informed program should devise methods and protocols to support the cultural needs of their teenage girl patients. The potential for re-traumatization from the lack of sensitivity to cultural, racial, gender, or any other biases is a major concern when strategizing an individualized treatment program that is based on trauma-informed care.

        "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." - Psalm 23:4 (NIV)