Youth Corner

Trauma-focused treatment for teens and young adults

Youth in foster care have faced trauma first hand. Experiencing or witnessing troubling events (like violence at home, being threatened, verbally abused, or neglected by adults who are supposed to care for you), is one thing that gets in the way of developing skills needed to do well in school and to have healthy relationships. People react in different ways to traumatic experience. Some may become distracted, sad, or mad, and even become depressed; others lose sleep, lose interest in things they used to enjoy, feel guilty, or have nightmares. Some teens may feel like they want to forget or ignore the troubling event. It is normal to be uneasy about your feelings or your safety. There are things you can do to help strengthen your ability to heal from trauma so you can focus on school, be involved in fun activities, and make friends.

To be resilient is to have the ability to adapt and overcome troubling events and to succeed in spite of trauma, tragedy, or threats to your safety. Experiencing traumatic events brings emotional challenges that can get in the way of your healing. If you participate in therapy, there are things you can do to help take less time to heal. While you are in out-of-home care, you will have a treatment plan, and how you participate in your treatment will play a part in your ability to deal with stress now and later in life and heal from your trauma experience.

  • Trauma-focused treatment is an approach to helping people with healthy development by focusing on tending to certain needs.
  • Safety, meaningfulness and respect, positive self-identity, feeling of having some control of important things in life, love and belonging, and other positive characteristics are needed to have healthy relationships and emotional strength.
  • Healthy behaviors and successful learning requires that these needs are met in a safe and healing environment.

Advocating for yourself
You can have an impact on building your skills that can help you get through troublesome times, and have more emotional strength and confidence. While in foster care, you have a right to receive services that promote your emotional health and to heal from painful experiences. Many teens who have experienced trauma may need to take steps to get help and support. They can better deal with situations that trigger more stress, but may not know how to go about “advocating” or speaking up for themselves. Ask your caseworker, foster parent, a friend or adult that you trust to help you find services that will help increase your sources of strength. Sometimes teens feel that they don’t need counseling or are being forced to go to counseling. If you take the steps to ask for services that can help you learn skills to deal with anger or sadness, you may not feel as confused or powerless. Your ideas about things that might help you are important and need to be considered. You can start by asking if there is something where you can learn more about how to manage feelings, or know more about how your opinion can be a part of the plan.

While it may feel better to pretend hurtful things did not happen, it can help to allow yourself to feel the sense of loss and uncertainty – that uncomfortable and clueless feeling about the direction of your situation – having an idea of what is going to happen next. This can help to be aware of “next steps” you can take to help manage better with sadness or anger so you can do the things you like to do in life and do well in school. There are tips and guides for teens in the RESOURCES SECTION that can help you know more so you can work through your feelings and participate in your healing. Here is one resource with helpful tips for coping:

Talking about your experience can be helpful in healing, but it is important to know how to do this so that it will be most helpful to your healing experience. Knowledge and planning can help you share your story and trauma experiences that will not lead to more bad feelings. A Youth Leadership Toolkit was published especially for teens with ideas for coming up with a positive plan (or strategy) for sharing personal stories, like in class or in other group situations.

Download and share these guides with other teens and young adults in your life.

There are many success stories to inspire you and let you know that you are not alone in experiencing traumatic events. A national organization for youth in foster care, called FosterClub, provides a source to learn about others who have experienced similar life events. They describe “resilience” as bouncing back from difficult experiences and not letting setbacks get your down. They believe it's about succeeding against all odds. Read about how many teens have “bounced back”. You can go to the website:

You can be informed and actively participate in decisions about your treatment. Having input in your treatment plan is one way to advocate for your needs and healthy development, but because of your trauma experiences, you may have feelings of distrust, feel inadequate, unprepared, unworthy, not deserving, and like you have no control over things in your life. You may feel like what you have to contribute will not be seriously considered or that you will not be believed.

You may need to learn to speak up to have your wants or needs heard. Ask to participate in deciding who will be considered for involvement in your counseling and family visits and to have your opinions considered in other important decisions. When you attend counseling or visit a doctor, ask to have the treatment explained so you can understand what improvement or side effects to expect and what other treatment options there may be. Ask about your rights to privacy, and who will be informed about your treatment. Ask for information on how to understand your rights.

You can also ask questions to better understand the medications that you may be prescribed for your healing. Young people in foster care who have survived trauma can learn more about the medicines that may be part of the healing or coping plan, and things they can do to be actively involved in their treatment. Here are two helpful resources or older youth:

“Healing from troubled events is a process and can be achieved as long as you are willing to be informed, empowered, and take some time to give to yourself as you discover ways that assist you in building and rebuilding healthy happy relationships, goals, and milestones for you to achieve”, (Lupe Tovar, Alumni of Foster Care, 19 years).

The Youth Resources section has links to guides and toolkits developed for young adults with meaningful input from young adults who have experienced foster care. The list can be downloaded and shared.

Youth Resources

Strategic Sharing and Public Speaking
Youth Leadership Toolkit These two guides help teens and young adults through sharing with a strategy! To protect yourself, other people who might be involved in your story, and your audience, you’ll want a plan. This guide explains why it is important to be prepared and share with purpose in public settings, treatment groups, and even private conversation. It provides examples, real stories, and ways you can use your story and it helps you begin to learn to develop control over your story
Developed by the National Resource Center for Youth Development (NRCYD).

Why a Teen Who Talks Back May Have a Bright Future

Read this article about one way teens learn from experience how to let their voice be heard! It was published on the National Public Radio’s Health Blog, “SHOTS” on January 6, 2012.

Youth Speak is published for young people by Partnering with Youth and Families Committee (PYFC) of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Kids as Self Advocates (KASA) is a national, grassroots project created by youth with disabilities for all youth. They consist of teens and young adults with disabilities who speak out. KASA knows youth can make choices and advocate for themselves if they have the information and support they need. Their website includes resources, such as a pocket guide for youth who are interested in serving on boards and partnering with local organizations.

Medical Guide for Children in Foster Care
New York State's Office of Children and Family has released a 28-page booklet to guide youth in care through the health care system. The booklet covers informed consent, rights to privacy and to refuse medication, and information about how to get and pay for medical care.

Resilience for Teens: Got Bounce?
This Website discusses ways to deal with problems from being bullied to the death of a friend or parent. Written for teens, the guide offers ten tips for building resilience (American Psychological Association; 2011).  

Represent: a Program of Youth Communication
Represent is a website that offers inspiration and information to teens in foster care, and offers staff useful insights into teen concerns. Read “Why Go to Therapy?”. A teen, Natasha, interviews a therapist to explain how therapy works and why it’s important for kids who’ve suffered trauma.

Sometimes, Youth Just Want to Be Heard!
National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Partnering with Youth and Families Workgroup (2009).
Sometimes, Youth Just Want to Be Heard! contains advice for treatment providers about reaching out to youth, offering peer-to-peer support relating to the therapist, offering services in school, aging out of the system at 18, and advice and hope for families who have a child who has experienced trauma. Compiled from youth from NCTSN sites around the country invited to be part of a two-day meeting, discussed how to involve and partner with youth and families in trauma settings. During youth-specific sessions, youth discussed their trauma treatment experiences and what advice they would like to give adults and trauma treatment providers.

The Youth on Board
This website offers a free organizational assessment checklist designed to help organizations determine where they are involving youth and develop strategies to better partner with youth. The checklist can be downloaded.