Trauma and Adolescence (Event 3-056 with panelist Raija-Leena Punamaki and commentator Stephen Russell)

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This presentation resonated well with my recent intellectual interest in psychological suffering.  Dr. Punamaki is someone who clearly "gets it," having developed an intervention on trauma that not only recognizes its effects on multiple levels, but weaves together multiple theoretical perspectives in order to address it on all levels.

In the beginning, she addressed some myths about trauma.  It makes little sense to say things like we're glad this happened while a child was so young because they didn't really understand it.  Trauma affects all ages, and affects them differently.  Also, we are not all the same in the face of trauma.  Because our coping is so diverse, trauma makes us even more different than we were before.

Trauma impacts, and the recovery process is impacted by, social relations, cognitive development, emotions, psychobiology, and symbolic processes (i.e., dreaming, fantasy, play).  Their intervention involving 482 Palestinian youth ages 11-14 in Gaza employed a cognitive-behavioral group intervention to both encourage development and reduce psychological symptoms.  She didn't spend much time on post-traumatic growth, which was just fine with me as I'm kind of tired of less-knowledgable people suggesting from the peanut gallery (she actually addressed this concern at one point, albeit not in so many words) that we should go ahead and let people get traumatized just so they can grow from it.

Her intervention's focus on dreams indicated its true multidimensional genius, weaving Freudian psychoanalytic insights into a primarily CBT-based intervention.  My recent reading on suicidality found studies suggesting nightmares are particularly dangerous, so dreams are probably an important target of intervention here.  Trauma corrupts the compensatory function of our symbolic processes so that they reinforce symptoms rather than aid in coping.  Dr. Punamaki's participants' dreams did not exactly get nicer over time, but they did involve the dreamer in a more active role.  Another multidimensional aspect of it was its attention to the unique needs of youth with avoidant and ambivalent attachment styles relative to those with secure attachment styles.

Dr. Russell's comments were that this is another case in point of how we and our field can grow from including non-North American ways of thinking, and we should all remember that trauma, although unusual among children in developed countries, is a normal part of growing up in many parts of the world.