Child in the shadowlands

The topic of this blogpost made the headlines in a shocking way this week when US Republican Todd Akin stated that women rarely get pregnant from rape because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Akin’s medieval assertions coincided with the publication of an essay in the Lancet that went in the very opposite direction and requested more attention for children born of rape, in particular in war circumstances.

Lead author Elisa van Ee, clinical psychologist and PhD candidate at Centre ’45 introduces the essay below.

The World Health Organization described children born of rape as at risk of being neglected, stigmatized, ostracized, or abandoned. Cases of infanticide (the killing of an infant) have also been reported. Despite such general concerns, little is known about the fate of these children. Continue reading

Psychological Impact of Injury on Young Children and their Parents

Many thanks to Dr. Alexandra De Young (University of Queensland) for two great seminars in Melbourne yesterday! Alex gave an overview of the findings from a longitudinal study with 130 young burn injured children (aged one to six years) and their parents.

The topics she discussed included:

  1. Prevalence, comorbidity and course of trauma reactions in the children
  2. Prevalence of trauma reactions in the parents
  3. A model of risk factors for persistent trauma reactions, and
  4. Clinical implications for current and future management of trauma reactions.

You can download a pdf of the presentation here. In addition, have a look at one of her central papers about trauma reactions in young children (free pdf). Last but not least, the new website of the child trauma research unit where she works is a good resource, both for clinicians and for families.

The 5 best books on children and trauma

Books! For a Dutch publication on supporting children after trauma, I have read and re-read a number of books on children and traumatic stress in the past couple of months. Five of them clearly stood out as favorites, mainly because of their innovative ideas, child-centered approach, and/or practical examples of how to help children.

Here they are, in random order. Would you agree with the selection? Continue reading

Psychological support after the bus crash in Switzerland

Yesterday was a day of national mourning in Belgium because of a tragic bus accident in Switzerland on Tuesday night. A bus with primary school children and their teachers, returning from a ski trip, had crashed into a tunnel wall near Sion. It caused the loss of 22 children and six adults. All other occupants (24 children) were injured.

It feels needless to say that this accident has a dramatic impact on the Belgian community, including the survivors, their families, their classmates, teachers, neighbors, involved professionals, and fellow citizens. The contrast between the children’s cheerful experiences during a week of skiing and the sudden devastation of lives couldn’t be more pronounced.

Erik de Soir, a Belgian crisis psychologist, provided support to the parents and teachers of the children from the moment the news reached one of the two schools involved. In an interview on the Dutch television on Thursday, he told about his experiences and the strategies for psychological support in the direct aftermath of mass trauma, in line with the current scientific evidence. I was very impressed with the genuine way he described his work and his views. Continue reading

Pink elephants and trauma recovery

Don’t think of a pink elephant.

It’s a classic example of how thought suppression works: counterproductively. You will think of a pink elephant. Wegner and colleagues have shown that it is very difficult to suppress a thought. If you try, it’s very likely that you will think about it more than if you don’t.

This problematic nature of mental control doesn’t apply to fancy experimental settings only. It is thought to play an important role in posttraumatic stress symptoms. Survivors who try harder to avoid thoughts about (or images of) a terrifying moment such as a car crash, are more prone to develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Avoidance of trauma-related thoughts makes it more difficult to challenge unhelpful beliefs related to the trauma (see the cognitive model by Ehlers & Clark).

Recently, researchers have started to look at the role of thought suppression in children. The first studies show strong relations with posttraumatic stress symptoms  (see also the meta-analysis by Trickey et al that I recently discussed). Understanding which cognitive processes take place in the development of PTSD in children is essential for our design of helpful interventions. Continue reading