How Trauma Affects Middle School Girls
Every child responds to traumatic events differently, with some showing adaptability and others finding it difficult to process their experience. Without secure attachment, your daughter is likely to experience difficulty in relationships, anxiety, depression, loneliness, low self-worth, and other related challenges. Middle school girls are particularly vulnerable to trauma experienced through bullying and rejection in relationships and develop negative beliefs about themselves and their social skills early in life. For this age group, their biggest fear is feeling different and not fitting in, so trauma can feel very isolating, when, in fact, it is more common among middle school girls than one would think.
At Asheville Academy for Girls, we recognize that student’s behavior is often a learned response to situations they’ve experienced. Often, we work with girls with PTSD who have been diagnosed with multiple other mental health disorders before recognizing that the symptoms may stem from the experiences they’ve had and that PTSD is a better explanation for them. Our holistic approach involves getting to know every student on an individualized basis in order to come up with a personalized treatment plan to help them process trauma they’ve experienced and cope in healthier ways.
The guide is meant to be comprehensive, but as such, not every section will be applicable to everyone. Instead, we invite you to click on the links in the table of contents to jump to the sections that most interest you.
What is Trauma?
Traumatic experiences are different for everyone, based on their own perceptions and feelings. What might seem like a normal, but unfortunate part of life could have a much greater impact on your child who has never experienced it before. Keeping an eye out for signs of trauma may be difficult, as it is often identified after noticing ADHD, depression, or anxiety, but knowing what to look for can make a difference in early intervention.
Signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Anxiety, fear, and worry about the safety of self and others
- Repeated discussion of the event and focus on specific details of what happened
- Increase in activity level
- Change in academic performance
- Irritability with friends, teachers, events
- Angry outbursts and/or aggression
- Withdrawal from others or activities
- Increased somatic complaints (headaches, stomachaches, chest pains)
- Nightmares or disturbing memories during the day
- Returning to younger ways of behaving including giving up responsibilities or a sudden return to rebellious behavior
When Does Your Child Need Treatment for Trauma?
Experiencing trauma can have significant long-term effects on one’s self-esteem and relationships. Especially following relational trauma, like bullying, domestic violence, or rejection, teens have a tendency to generalize their experiences in some relationships to a wider range of social situations. As a result, they may become socially withdrawn or develop social anxiety around interactions with even close friends that they used to trust. For this reason, taking a relationship-based approach to trauma is essential to healing the trauma that occurred in the context of relationships.
Types of Therapy for Trauma
As trauma is all about feeling powerless in experiences, we believe that the opposite of trauma is choice and empowerment. Our therapists are trained in a wide range of developmentally-appropriate therapeutic modalities so that the children they work with feel like they have more space to explore what works for them.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps teens think more about their thoughts, feelings, and behavior and replace negative thoughts with ones that are more realistic and positive.
- Social Skills Training helps teens learn and practice important relationship skills, like taking turns in conversation and discussing feelings when trying to resolve conflict. Within a residential group, students can explore group dynamics and practice how to stay present and connect with others in a group setting that resembles a home environment.
- Family therapy and parent seminars help students explore their family dynamics and repair relationships. Families work together to improve communication skills and help their child to transition to a more understanding and supportive environment at home.
- Mindfulness practices are designed to help people become more aware of the way that they are feeling and how that manifests in their body. For girls who feel like they are often on autopilot, mindfulness can help them connect to the present moment and self-regulate when feeling overwhelmed.
- Equine-assisted therapy for students to explore their relationship styles and build self-awareness about how to connect with and take care of others. Many of our horses struggle with attachment issues as well and together, they learn to co-regulate.
How Do Therapeutic Boarding Schools, like Asheville Academy, Help Girls Struggling with Trauma?
Change in Environment
One of the hardest parts of healing from trauma is being re-exposed to triggers at home or at school. For example, while experiences of mean girls and bullying are common in many middle schools, sometimes the thought of going into that school can feel overwhelming. If your daughter is being bullied at school and is struggling socially, switching schools can give her space to focus on herself and her academic goals and allows her to reinvent her relationships. Therapeutic boarding schools integrate accredited academics and evidence-based therapy to immerse students in an all-inclusive healing environment and reduce changes in their routine.
Challenging Beliefs about Relationships
One of the therapeutic modalities we use, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, focuses on helping teens think more about their thoughts, feelings, and behavior and replace negative thoughts with ones that are more realistic and positive. Between group therapy discussions around trauma and taking on a community role in one’s “tree group,” students explore healthier ways to connect with others and find evidence that many relationships are, in fact, positive when they share positive values.
Building a Close Community
Our residential model emphasizes the benefits of milieu therapy and group therapy in building connections with a consistent peer group. Our community is divided into separate teams with their own Academic Advisors, Residential Advisors, and Clinicians based on students’ age and shared past experiences. Our staff rotate in weekly shifts to improve consistency and deepen connections. We use equine-assisted therapy and offer grief, attachment, and adoption processing groups for students struggling with various types of trauma.