Helping Teens Process Their Feelings After Trauma

Very often at Heritage, a school for troubled teens, we see students who’ve faced trauma act out.

No one is immune to traumatic events, from witnessing violence to being abused, anyone can suffer from trauma.   The good news is that teens are resilient, and with the right help, they can – and will — heal.

It’s good to remember that the experience of a traumatic event is unique to the child going through it.  Their view of what happened is encoded in the brain according to the senses recording the event.  Their perception of what happened is unique to their age, gender, processing ability, insight, and understanding of survival.  We all process things differently and will have different perceptions according to our experiences and who we are.  It’s more difficult, however, for younger folks to determine the truth of their experience.

It’s not unusual for a teen to have behavioral fallout following trauma. They may have nightmares, a fear of being alone, stomachaches, headaches, feel jumpy or nervous, and recount the event in their head repeatedly. They also may wish that something bad will happen to the person who caused the trauma. Supporting the teen by assuring them that these are all normal thoughts and behaviors will help he or she heal.

As counselors, we never make judgments or dismiss a client’s recollections of a traumatic event.  That would be counterproductive and cause a lack of trust.  It’s our job to listen and establish a supportive relationship so the teen will trust us and open up.

With that in mind, we encourage parents and support groups to also remind the child that it is normal to feel fear or worry after a trauma or overwhelming life event.  Assuring teens that what they feel is normal reduces their concern that something might be “wrong” with them.

Helpful things to remind them are:

  • Feeling jittery, jumpy or nervous is normal when something so painful happens.
  • A lot of kids at Heritage have felt the same way you do.
  • It’s OK to be mad about what happened.
  • Even grown-ups have similar feelings when they’re scared or worried.
  • Thanks for trusting me to listen to what is making you so anxious.

Remembering that some behaviors are a natural reaction to an event that was devastating is the first step to offering courage to face their long road to healing.


About Heritage

Heritage, a therapeutic boarding school, focuses on healing teens, helping them recover, and restoring harmony for their families. Whether the issue is ADD, ADHD, OCD, bipolarism, asperbergers, autism, or other emotional issues, we can help with a path to recovery. Heritage has been serving families for over 30 years. As a leading residential treatment center in Utah, you can count on us to focus on the best, individual approach for your son or daughter. When it comes to residential programs, Heritage is the industry leader.

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