The Impact of Childhood Trauma and How Play Therapy Can Help

The Impact of Childhood Trauma and How Play Therapy Can Help

Childhood trauma can have lasting effects, leading to brain changes associated with depression and other mental health problems. Fortunately, there are effective treatments available to reduce negative outcomes and improve functioning for children with trauma exposure.

If a child in your life has a history of trauma, it’s important to learn about the effects of trauma, as well as helpful treatments. We’ll cover all you need to know, including how play therapy can be beneficial for managing childhood trauma.

How trauma affects children

When we talk about childhood trauma, we’re referring to any event that involves actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence. A child may have symptoms related to trauma exposure if they directly experience such an event, or if they witness it happening to someone else, such as a parent or sibling. 

Children exposed to a traumatic event may develop a mental health condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is associated with symptoms including repeated memories of the traumatic event, nightmares related to the trauma, and attempts to avoid painful memories.

Children with PTSD also show symptoms such as sleep disturbances, ongoing negative emotions, withdrawal from other people, and lack of interest in their usual activities. Beyond these PTSD symptoms, children exposed to trauma experience a range of cognitive impairments, including difficulties with learning and memory, impaired verbal skills, and reduced executive functioning capabilities. 

The importance of treatment for childhood PTSD

Symptoms related to childhood trauma can interfere with daily functioning and cognitive development. However, treatment can help children to process trauma symptoms and develop coping skills so that trauma doesn’t have as much of a negative impact on daily life.

Fortunately, there are several evidence-based interventions for early childhood trauma. Trauma in children is often treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy, parent-child interaction therapy, or child-parent psychotherapy. 

While these methods have been found to be effective, sometimes, children need an alternative approach. Play therapy is one such approach, and it caters to children’s unique developmental needs. 

How play therapy can help 

Play therapy has been identified as a promising treatment modality for youth who have been subjected to adverse childhood experiences, including trauma. Play therapy allows children to use toys for self-expression, which falls in line with their developmental needs. 

Play therapy occurs in a playroom, where children have access to a range of toys, including dolls, puzzles, and figurines. Children are given the opportunity to select toys, and through play, they can communicate their experiences and emotions. 

Children with trauma can benefit from the safe setting that play therapy provides. By using toys, they can relive the traumatic experience and express painful emotions, with the support of a therapist. Using play to communicate can be much less threatening than sitting in an armchair and discussing feelings with an adult.

How play therapy for trauma works

There are various types of play therapy, but what they all have in common is the use of play as a form of self-expression. Some play therapists may incorporate music or art into their sessions, whereas others use sand trays and figurines to help children process their emotions.

A play therapist will typically meet with a child for 30 to 45-minute sessions every week. The therapist will work with the child in the playroom, providing guidance as the child processes traumatic experiences. The therapist will help the child to process their emotions, solve problems, and develop coping skills. 

New Jersey play therapy services 

If you’re looking for a New Jersey play therapist, Bridge to Balance is here to help. We offer services for individuals, and we also run a sandtray therapy group for children. We have office locations in Hamilton, Voorhees, and Piscataway, and we serve both children and adults. Visit our webpage today to schedule an appointment. 









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