We all suffer some degree of trauma in our lives. For most of us, it is the result of standard life events, such as divorce or the loss of a parent. However, children are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of trauma because they are already grappling with developmental challenges, making choices that follow them into adulthood.
The realities of our culture—replete with texting, instant messaging and a multitude of technological advancements—pose a challenge to protecting our children from a variety of potentially traumatic experiences (Klorer, P. G ; Christakis, D. A., Zimmerman, F. J., DiGuiseppe, D. L., &McCarty, C. A. ; Elkin, T. [2005, March 10]). In fact, this vulnerability and the accelerated tech landscape can compromise their ability to handle life’s normal challenges.
Everyone knows that males and females are different. Some of the differences—like facial hair or body type—are obvious. Other differences are subtle and can be especially significant to the treatment of emotionally traumatized adolescents. It is not unusual for boys and girls to display different symptoms of the same disorder.
For instance, males experiencing behavioral and/or emotional problems often have major behavior problems in school while in contrast, females display fewer outward signs (M. Timmermans, P. A. C. van Lier and H. M. Koot ). In addition, because the symptoms in females are less detectable, girls often go untreated, leading to problems in school, to low self-esteem, and to difficulty developing healthy relationships. Children’s reactions to traumatic experiences and life challenges can also take distinctive forms in female and male adolescents.
Early-onset disorders (e.g., conduct problems, autism) tend to show a marked male preponderance, whereas adolescent-onset disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety) tend to show a marked female preponderance (Zahn-Waxler C, Shirtcliff EA, Marceau K ).
Learning styles also influence the unique needs of teenage boys and girls. Traumatized females are often more emotionally reactive and tend to over-value relationships, even at the cost of their security. Alternatively, boys may focus on gaining power and dominance and may cope with emotional pain by avoiding the expression of any feelings except for anger. (Sullivan, T. N., Helms, S. W., Kliewer, W. and Goodman, K. L. ; Shih et al. ; Hankin et al.). It is critically important to present information to adolescents of either gender so that they can relate to and understand it. We can’t help them if they cannot hear us.
Because of these varied symptoms and differentiated learning styles, programs that treat mental illness in children and adolescents must attend to issues specific to boys and girls. Moreover, because most treatment models have traditionally been geared to treating males, the development of programming unique to girls is essential. In order for an adolescent female treatment program to be successful, gender responsive and trauma informed programming must show up in treatment curriculum and daily hospital practices, ensuring that girls have access to services that are relevant to their unique developmental profiles.
This includes an intake process that is welcoming and strength-based, therapy that teaches relationship-based coping skills, opportunities for the healthy expression of emotion in a secure environment, daily rituals that protect privacy but also encourage community membership, milieu development that includes the opinions and preferences of the patients, and a non-punitive motivational/behavior management program.
On December 10, 2010, Fairmount Behavioral Health (FBHS) completed its 54-bed expansion project in December of 2010, a project which added 32 acute psychiatric adolescent beds and relocated 22 of our acute adult psychiatric beds. This expansion and relocation have enabled Fairmount to enhance its services for a number of key patient populations, including services for adolescent females, dually diagnosed patients, and young adults (ages 18-30). In addition, FBHS has added 22 chemical dependency residential beds including the provision of detoxification services for the treatment of opiate dependence.
Fairmount’s 32-bed adolescent girl’s program expansion is a direct response to the increased demand for inpatient child/adolescent services in the Delaware Valley over the past several years and will enable Fairmount to provide gender-specific and trauma-informed treatment for girls. The newly constructed adolescent wing houses two units, both of which serve teenaged girls.
This unit boasts modern construction and ample group therapy/activity space, as well as a new classroom for school. Beginning in 2011, the program will utilize Gender Responsive and Trauma Informed Treatment based on the CORE© Training/Curriculum Program, making
Fairmount’s girls programming a model of best practice for the Delaware Valley. Fairmount’s expansion project will also enable the development of unique adult programming based upon specific clinical profiles including High Acuity, Short Term Assessment and Treatment, Chronic Mentally Ill and Dual Diagnosis Units. The expansion project makes Fairmount the largest freestanding behavioral health hospital in the Greater Philadelphia region.
In fact, Fairmount’s patient capacity will be 239 inpatient/residential beds, including 172 inpatient psychiatric beds and 67 chemical dependency/ detoxification beds.