To ask or not to ask children about trauma, that’s the question

Actually, I don’t think it’s the question. My impression from the research literature, clinicians’ comments, and my own experience is that it is not harmful when we discuss the topic in a respectful, open-minded way. On the contrary, I think it’s very important to ask children about traumatic exposure and posttraumatic stress reactions. But we should prove it. And if I turn out to be wrong, we should know as well. Continue reading

Does it hurt to ask children about trauma? Part II

Last week, I asked the question in two LinkedIn groups, and received over 20 reactions from mental health clinicians. Their answers were very consistent, and contained a couple of main messages:

  • It doesn’t hurt to ask about trauma. These clinicians were more worried about not asking about trauma.
  • It is important to let children talk about their potential traumatic history in their own words and in their own time.
  • Clinicians should make sure that they have the appropriate skills to engage in trauma-related conversations with children. Some of the LinkedIn members saw clinicians being afraid of discussing trauma as an important area for improvement of care.
  • If you are a mental health clinician wanting to learn about discussing traumatic exposure or posttraumatic stress reactions with children and adults, the online trauma focused CBT training is a good start.
  • When asked, many children and youths are remarkably open about their experiences.

Next time, I will describe the instrument to systematically measure children’s reactions to questions about trauma in research: the Response to Research Participation Questionnaire for Children and Parents (RRPQ-C and RRPQ-P, available in English and Dutch)!

Does it hurt to ask children about trauma?

Is it harmful to ask children about their (potential) traumatic history or posttraumatic stress reactions? It’s a recurring question, especially in research settings but also in the context of clinical services and day-to-day interactions with children. Often we decide to ask or not to ask based on gut feelings, but who knows whether they are correct?

Three issues are of particular interest and importance I think: 1) Is it necessary to do trauma research with children while we could also do studies with adults and translate the findings? 2) How do we get an idea of whether it actually hurts to ask about trauma? and 3) What empirical evidence do we have so far? Continue reading