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Addressing childhood trauma in a developmental context

Gregorowski, Claire ; Seedat, Soraya (2013-06)

Publication of this article was funded by the Stellenbosch University Open Access Fund.

The original publication is available at http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rcmh20/current#.UfYgj6xL5nU


With the anticipated publication of the DSM-5 in May 2013, much reflection and work has been done on reviewing existing psychiatric nomenclature including, but not limited to the field of traumatic exposure. Traditionally, understanding of the psychiatric and psychological effects of trauma have been developed from studies with adults and then applied to trauma-exposed children with some modifications. While this is an important step to understanding the sequelae of trauma in children and adolescents, the adverse developmental effects of traumatic exposures on the rapidly evolving neurological, physical, social and psychological capacities of children calls for a developmentally sensitive framework for understanding, assessing and treating trauma-exposed children. The importance of early attachment relationships in infancy and childhood means that severely disrupted early caregiving relationships may have far-reaching and lifelong developmental consequences and can therefore be considered traumatic. Given the high rates of violence and trauma exposure of South African children and adolescents, the need for a developmentally based understanding of the effects of trauma on child and adolescent mental health becomes even more pronounced. In this paper, we draw on theoretical perspectives to provide a practical, clinically driven approach to the management of developmental trauma.

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