Understanding Interpersonal Trauma in Children: Why We Need a Developmentally Appropriate Trauma Diagnosis

Am J Orthopsychiatry. 2012 Apr;82(2):187-200. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-0025.2012.01154.x.

Abstract

Childhood exposure to victimization is prevalent and has been shown to contribute to significant immediate and long-term psychological distress and functional impairment. Children exposed to interpersonal victimization often meet criteria for psychiatric disorders other than posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Therefore, this article summarizes research that suggests directions for broadening current diagnostic conceptualizations for victimized children, focusing on findings regarding victimization, the prevalence of a variety of psychiatric symptoms related to affect and behavior dysregulation, disturbances of consciousness and cognition, alterations in attribution and schema, and interpersonal impairment. A wide range of symptoms is common in victimized children. As a result, in the current psychiatric nosology, multiple comorbid diagnoses are necessary-but not necessarily accurate-to describe many victimized children, potentially leading to both undertreatment and overtreatment. Related findings regarding biological correlates of childhood victimization and the treatment outcome literature are also reviewed. Recommendations for future research aimed at enhancing diagnosis and treatment of victimized children are provided.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Comorbidity
  • Crime Victims / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology