Over the past three months, we’ve been exploring the topic of childhood trauma and its impact on mental health. Child maltreatment is the most common cause of trauma for youth and commonly the adult perpetrators, who were also subject to maltreatment in their youth. The perpetrator’s experience is then transmitted to their family. Trauma may also be the result of other events. Trauma is the reaction to frightening, often life-threatening, and violent experiences and while our focus is on child maltreatment, a traumatizing event may be experienced by any or all members of a family and then may lead to maltreatment, disruption of relationships and impede family functioning. Regardless of the trauma type, every trauma is a family trauma.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network notes that all families experience trauma differently, and some factors such as a child’s age or the family’s culture or ethnicity may influence how the family copes and recovers from a traumatic event. Trauma changes families as they work to survive and adapt to their circumstances and environment. While this adjustment may be less difficult for some, for others the stress and burden cause them to feel isolated, overwhelmed, and less able to maintain vital family functions.
At Kempe, we believe that every family who has faced trauma deserves access to treatment so that they may heal and recover together. That’s why the Kempe Center’s IMHOFF Clinic takes a whole family approach and provides services for children, as well as their parents, caregivers and siblings who may also be dealing with symptoms related to stress, trauma and adversity.
We recently connected with Dr. Steven Berkowitz, a visiting professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus who is working in collaboration with Kempe to grow the IMHOFF Clinic’s whole family care approach.
Why is a family-focused approach a more effective way to address trauma?
Very often, children who experience trauma have parents or caregivers who were also traumatized in their youth and never received treatment to address the emotional, cognitive and behavioral consequences. Because trauma can be transmitted across generations, we see these children experience the same things that happened to their parents and caregivers. As a treatment provider, it is important to assess everyone in the family to identify any significant issues or psychological symptoms that may be related to an intergenerational history of trauma. In order for the child to successfully recover from their own traumatic experiences, we must take a whole family perspective and treat everyone in the family unit.
What is unique about your work at the IMHOFF Clinic?
We are building the IMHOFF Clinic into a family-focused clinic that provides services for children, youth and adults dealing with symptoms related to stress, trauma and adversity. Our multidisciplinary treatment team works together with children and their families in a much more integrated way. In the past, if we saw a parent or caregiver struggling alongside their child, we would have to refer them to another treatment provider in a completely different location. Here, the treatment is in one place and we offer a range of individualized therapies and pharmacology to any family members who need it.
What are you hoping to achieve at the IMHOFF Clinic?
This group is on the forefront of providing the most comprehensive and evidence-based assessments and treatments that focus on stress and trauma throughout the lifespan. We are working to develop a model program that helps to unify the various departments of the University of Colorado, School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado in order to better serve the families that come to Kempe for help. We’d also like to develop an effective home-based program for children and families so that treatment can happen in the least restrictive, most normative setting possible, with the goal being to help families live and function successfully at home.