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Deena McMahon on Childhood Trauma

I have a thorough understanding of the neurobiological impact that trauma has on a child’s brain. I specialize in addressing the short- and long-term problems that children experience from being exposed to multiple and/or severe trauma. This would be considered — loss of multiple caretakers through death, adoption or foster care; early childhood neglect; physical or sexual abuse; witnessing family violence; witnessing or being part of a traumatic event that the child experiences as life threatening. These children need immediate and intense services to the extent that that is possible. Services that are most effective include the child and the caregiver. It involves teaching the child to reflect on the past in a way that they feel they have control in the present. Areas of strengths and competencies are identified to assist in alleviating the anxiety a child experiences. Using cognitive processes and sensory interventions, a child’s mind and body can gradually learn to feel safe. Children who have experienced trauma typically have a great deal of difficulty managing their moods and emotions. Building competence in the area of affect regulation is critical to helping these children gain an improved sense of well being. Because children who have experienced trauma routinely feel vulnerable and unsafe, strategies are engaged to help the child find ways to verbally express their trauma story and ways to interact with their environment and feel comfortable. Theraplay strategies are frequently used to teach the child to relax, to accept nurture, to tolerate challenge and to operate within the structure of a relationship. Children need to learn how to play because play is the venue they use to express themselves.