Recovering from Trauma Together

(Photo: Pixabay)
(Photo: Pixabay)

UConn Health assistant professor Carolyn Greene has received a $637,000 K23 award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study intrafamilial processes associated with children’s development of and recovery from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Approximately 20 percent of children experience interpersonal trauma: victimization that occurs at the hands of another such as sexual assault or physical abuse. As many as 40 percent of these children will develop posttraumatic stress symptoms. This can lead to these children feeling afraid, lonely, worried, sad or angry, feeling separated from others, having low self-worth, and having trouble trusting others.

Left untreated, trauma exposure can also lead to emotional and behavioral problems including aggressive behaviors, problems with learning and concentration, risky sexual behavior, self-harm, sleep problems, and abuse of drugs or alcohol. But families can help their children cope with and recover from their trauma, according to experts.

Numerous links have been documented between parental and child posttraumatic stress reactions, but the processes that explain these associations are poorly understood. Greene hopes to elucidate one way these processes may be connected: the development of emotional regulation skills.

Interpersonal trauma exposure places both children and adults at an increased risk for problems with emotional dysregulation, in which a person struggles to manage their response to emotional stimuli effectively. Parental development of emotional dysregulation may impede their ability to help their children to develop effective emotion regulation skills, which may place their children at greater risk of developing PTSD.

“My research is focused on supporting parents’ and children’s recovery from trauma together,” explains Greene. “We know that parents play a key role in children’s recovery from trauma exposure, but parents sometimes also experience their own stress and trauma. Helping parents to manage their own reactions to their experiences can support their efforts to provide their children with the optimal support and security they need to recover.”

Developing a better understanding of intrafamilial processes associated with childhood development of emotion regulation and post-traumatic stress symptoms can also help inform interventions that enhance parents’ capacity to guide their children and assist them in overcoming the effects of trauma exposure.

NIH K23 grants are designed to provide support for the career development of investigators who have made a commitment to focus their research endeavors on patient-oriented research. Greene will work with a team of mentors on this project. The team will be led by Margaret Briggs-Gowan, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at UConn Health; and will also include Dorothy McCoach, Ph.D., professor of educational psychology at UConn; and Elizabeth Skowron, Ph.D., professor of counseling psychology and prevention science at the University of Oregon.

Greene’s work has also been supported by her long-time mentor, Julian Ford, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at UConn Health, and the UConn CICATS Pre-K Scholar Award Program.

Greene received her Ph.D. from UMass Boston in 2011. Her clinical interests include psychotherapy with children, adolescents, and families, including treatment for PTSD and complex trauma.

Grant Number: 1K23HD094824-01.