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Pediatric Medical Traumatic Stress: Understanding Reactions from the Inside Out Center for Pediatric Traumatic Stress The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

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Presentation on theme: "Pediatric Medical Traumatic Stress: Understanding Reactions from the Inside Out Center for Pediatric Traumatic Stress The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia."— Presentation transcript:

1 Pediatric Medical Traumatic Stress: Understanding Reactions from the Inside Out Center for Pediatric Traumatic Stress The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

2 Outline Part 1: Understanding pediatric medical traumatic stress  Definitions and impact of medical traumatic stress  Child & parent experiences  Traumatic stress symptoms  Risk factors for traumatic stress  Developmental Issues  Role of Beliefs  Intervention Models Part 2: Opportunities for prevention and intervention  Trauma-Informed Pediatric Care  Integrating family-centered and trauma-informed care  Responding to traumatic stress: PMTS Toolkit and D-E-F Protocol  Intervention strategies along the continuum of care

3 Impact of Medical Traumatic Stress  Up to 80% of children and their families experience some traumatic stress reactions following life-threatening illness, injury or painful medical procedures.  20-30% of parents and 15-25% of children and siblings experience persistent traumatic stress reactions.  When they persist, traumatic stress reactions can: Impair day-to-day functioning Affect adherence to medical treatment Impede optimal recovery Affect relationships between providers and patients.

4 RATES OF MEDICAL TRAUMATIC STRESS Sample / SettingPatientsRate ReportedParentsRate Reported Illness: Cancer: In-Treatment  ~10%  23-71% Cancer: Survivors  12-52%  20-43% Cardiac Surgery  24-29%  ~16% Organ Transplantation  11-29%  27-58% HIV  ~33% Asthma  11-20%  14-29% Diabetes  ~5%  20-46% Epilepsy  ~31% Injury: Burns  6-53%  12-37% Motor Vehicle / Pedestrian  12-55%  3-15% Traumatic Brain Injury  21-49% Spinal Cord  25-46%  ~53% Disfigurement  21% Intensive Care: PICU  21-48%  13-27%

5 What’s Traumatic in Medical Trauma?  It’s not just the time of accident or diagnosis  Traumatic stressors, reminders, and losses occur at various times during treatment - even after treatment ends.  Trauma challenges our beliefs and assumptions  About safety, vulnerability, and the “natural order” of things.  Parental beliefs (“I should have taken him/her to the doctor sooner”) can be especially challenged.  Sometimes the “cure” (treatment) is equally traumatic  Painful treatment, hair loss, chemo, surgical scarring are often perceived by children as more traumatic than the injury or illness.

6 What’s Traumatic, cont.  Making decisions under duress  In medical environments, the family is often required to make important decisions under duress, with potentially uncertain outcomes.  Continued exposure can prolong the trauma  Hospitalized children and families are continually exposed to seeing other sick or injured children, or knowing children who died  At times, there is no definite end to the trauma situation  Ongoing treatment and uncertainty maintain trauma threat  Late effects of treatment, occurring years after treatment ends, can re-traumatize patients and families

7 What’s Traumatic for Children?  Being left alone  Being in pain or painful procedures.  Having a noticeable injury / disability.  Exposure to medical equipment that is frightening.  Fearing what other kids will think of them.  Uncertainty about what will happen next.  Seeing other hurt or sick kids.  Thinking that the illness/injury is punishment for something they did wrong.  Fear of dying.

8 What’s Traumatic for Parents?  Time of life-threatening injury or diagnosis  Ongoing uncertainty regarding prognosis  Treatment setbacks or relapse  Feeling helpless or guilty  Fear of their child dying  Exposure to other parents’ distress, or to death of other patients  Seeing their child in pain, going through invasive procedures, or hooked up to medical equipment

9 In their own words… children and parents “I thought I was going to die. I thought I must really be hurt. …I was so scared because my mom was not there.” “It all happened so quickly. I was ‘out of it’ and in pain. I was given the first chemo treatment without being told what was going on – that upset me for a long time after that.” “We went from taking him to our family doctor, thinking that he had some kind of flu, to by the end of the afternoon being in the ICU and having him inundated with needles, and tubes, and … Wow! How did the day end up like this?” “I saw my son lying in the street. Bleeding, crying, the ambulance, everybody around him. …It was a horrible scene. I thought I was dreaming.”

10 What is Medical Traumatic Stress? “A set of psychological and physiological responses of children and their families to pain, injury, medical procedures, and invasive or frightening treatment experiences.” National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2003

11 Defining Medical Traumatic Stress  Medical traumatic stress responses:  are related to subjective experience of the event  vary in intensity  can become disruptive to functioning  hallmark symptoms include arousal, re-experiencing, avoidance, and sometimes, dissociation

12 Traumatic Stress Symptoms Re-experiencing  Thinking a lot about the injury, illness, or medical procedure (unwanted and intrusive).  Feeling distressed at thoughts or reminders.  Having nightmares, flashbacks  “It keeps popping into my mind.”  “It feels like it’s happening all over again.”  “I get upset when something reminds me of it.”

13 Traumatic Stress Symptoms Avoidance  Not wanting to think / talk about the injury, illness, or hospital experience.  Avoiding reminders or triggers.  Missing or canceling appointments or therapeutic activities, medication non-compliance  Displaying less interest in usual activities.  Feeling emotionally numb or detached from others.  “I block it out – and try not to think about it.”  “I try to stay away from things that remind me of it.”

14 Traumatic Stress Symptoms Increased Arousal  Increased irritability, agitation.  Acting out behavior.  Trouble concentrating or sleeping.  Exaggerated startle response.  Hyper-vigilance / overprotection.  “I am always afraid something bad will happen.  “I get jumpy at any loud noise.”  “I cannot concentrate / can’t sleep.”

15 Traumatic Stress Symptoms  Dissociation  Feeling in a daze or spacey  “It felt unreal-like I was dreaming.”  “I can’t even remember parts of it.”  Other Feelings  New fears  Somatic complaints not explained by medical condition

16 Trajectory of Traumatic Stress  Initial distress in health care settings is common, expected, and understandable.  Many children and parents cope well, with the basic supportive interventions and with time  Some may develop persistent traumatic stress reactions, such as post traumatic stress disorder, which impedes both health and psychosocial functioning.

17 Shows normal coping Shows traumatic stress reactions

18 Indicators of Risk Studies of injured children showed that neither acute stress nor posttraumatic stress responses were associated with objective measures of severity of injury or illness. Rather they were associated with subjective feelings about the situation. (Balluffi et al., 2004; Winston et al., 2008) It is not only the most ill or injured children who need extra attention Severity of illness Severity of injury

19 Risk Factors: Children  No. 1: Child’s subjective perception of life-threat (often unrelated to objective prognosis)  Children who are afraid that they might die can have more significant traumatic stress responses.  Medical providers’ objective perceptions of diagnosis and prognosis can be quite different from what child is thinking / feeling.  Children will not necessarily tell providers that they are worried about dying

20 Other Risk Factors: Children, cont.  Severe pain and/or painful treatment  Separation from parents / caregivers  Previous history of other trauma (medical / non-medical)  Prior behavioral / emotional problems  Lack of peer support  Acute traumatic stress reactions

21 Risk Factors: Parents / Caregivers  Subjective perception of life-threat to child, regardless of diagnosis / prognosis  Parents’ trauma history  Prior emotional / mental health problems  Experiencing concurrent losses, life stressors, or disruption  Lack of social support

22 Risk Factors in Injury Before the injury  Previous traumatic experiences  Prior behavior or emotional problems During the injury or just after  Extremely frightened or worried / separated from parents  Exposed to scary sights and sounds  Pain After the injury (early days)  Child or parent acute stress reactions  Continued pain  Coping through social withdrawal

23 Risk Factors in Illness Before diagnosis  Prior traumatic experiences or prior posttraumatic stress  Prior behavioral, anxiety or emotional issues At diagnosis  Concurrent stressors  Painful or frightening procedures  Worry about dying During treatment / remission  Feeling isolated or different from peers  Painful treatments or frightening procedures  Lacking social support or coping resources

24 Developmental Issues and Traumatic Stress : Young Children Responses are more behavioral  will SHOW you that they are upset, rather than tell you. Can regress behaviorally  including bed wetting, thumb sucking, being more clingy with caregivers etc. Cannot self-soothe  show strong startle responses, have nightmares and emotional outbursts as a result Think in images  are more likely to process trauma through play, drawing, or storytelling

25 Developmental Issues and Traumatic Stress: School-Age Children Will take cues from adults’ non-verbal behaviors  will discount verbal explanations if what they observe does not match up with what they are told Will use their active imaginations  to fill in the blanks when they do not have realistic and accurate information or explanations Can believe that an illness or injury is punishment  for something they said, thought, or did wrong Can experience significant grief and loss reactions  even if loss was expected and prepared for

26 Developmental Issues and Traumatic Stress: Adolescents Are more concerned with the “here and now”  future is too abstract; view themselves in concrete terms Can be idealistic  or unrealistic in expectations for themselves and others Are self-conscious  and sensitive about looking different than peers Can act more grown up than they feel inside  to protect others from their thoughts and feelings May resent feeling dependent  on parents and providers

27 Understanding the Role of Beliefs Children and Families have beliefs regarding:  Actual or perceived life-threat  The impact of the injury or illness will have on the child, family, and future  How best to protect oneself or one’s child from further danger  One’s ability / competency to cope with issues such as painful treatment, medical needs and decisions

28 Understanding Beliefs, cont.  Understanding a person’s subjective view as well as their personal beliefs about the illness, injury, or its meaning  can assist health care providers in assessing how a child or parent will cope with the situation.  With serious injury or illness, beliefs often focus on  responding to life-threat  protecting oneself and one’s child  regaining control of events or situations

29 Working with Family Beliefs Once beliefs are understood, you can help families cope by:  Gently helping them to see how their beliefs influence their thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and ways of relating with each other and the medical team  Helping them “reframe” their unhelpful beliefs by:  Accepting the uncontrollable  Focusing on the controllable  Identifying their strengths in coping with the situation  Using their strengths as a positive asset

30 Intervention Models - Medical Traumatic Stress  Phases of Medical Traumatic Stress Model  Matches potential interventions to different stages of traumatic stress development  Prevention and Treatment Model  Stratifies children and families into three levels of intervention, based on early symptoms


32 Phases Model, cont. Phase I: Peri-Trauma  Initial events, or trauma events that are still unfolding:  in the midst of emergency care  during injury event  during diagnosis of a serious illness  Intervention focus is on reducing the traumatic aspects of this experience for children - both objective and subjective  Provide anticipatory guidance about what to expect, what’s “normal” and helpful ways of coping

33 Phases Model, cont. Phase II: Early, ongoing, evolving responses  The days and weeks that follow the traumatic event  Intervention focus is on promoting adaptive coping, addressing immediate distress  Screen for acute distress and risk factors to determine which children and families might need more support  Practice “watchful waiting” with those less distressed Help strengthen coping skills Reframe unhelpful beliefs  Provide referrals as needed for those significantly distressed

34 Phases Model, cont. Phase III: Longer Term Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms (PTSS)  Months or years after a traumatic event, illness or injury  Intervention focus is on supporting adaptive coping, detecting persistent stress reactions, and referring for further mental health treatment.  Identify coping needs and promote family and community / religious support


36 Prevention Model: Levels of Symptomotology  Universal- Some distress, but most children and families have coping strengths and resources  Targeted- Acute distress or risk factors present; child / family does not appear to have strong coping resources; other concurrent (non-medical) stressors are present  Clinical And Treatment- significant distress, multiple risk factors, few coping strengths, and/or posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS)

37 Universal (Preventive) Interventions  For: children and families are distressed but resilient; who have coping strengths and resources  Provide general support, and help families help themselves, provide psychoeducation, screen for indicators of risk.  Employ “watchful waiting” for first few days/weeks to see if distress abates  Use DEF protocol Reduce Distress Provide Emotional Support Remember (and include) the Family

38 Universal Interventions, cont. Provide Trauma-informed Care  Minimize potential traumatic medical experiences (sights, sounds, smells, procedures) inpatient and outpatient  Anticipate and address distress and common traumatic stress reactions  Screen to determine who needs additional support  Identify family needs and strengths

39 Targeted Interventions  For: children and families with acute distress, who have additional risk factors, and/or have few coping strengths and resources  Provide interventions specific to symptoms, coping needs, and beliefs.  Continue use of DEF protocol and Trauma-Informed care  Monitor distress level and refer to mental health provider if symptoms or get worse

40 Clinical (Treatment) Interventions  For: children and families with significant or worsening distress, posttraumatic stress symptoms, multiple risk factors, and few/no coping strengths or resources  Consult behavioral health specialist for assessment  Refer for further mental health treatment  For more information regarding roles for providers in assessing and treating medical traumatic stress, see slideshow #2.

41 For More Information  Center for Pediatric Traumatic Stress The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia General website: Training website: Email:  National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Website:  Pediatric Medical Traumatic Stress Toolkit (online) Website:

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