If your teen has been diagnosed with a adolescent dissociative disorder, which is probable if he or she has experienced trauma, then you may want to know that there are essentially two forms of treatment: psychotherapy and psychopharmacology, or medication.
Adolescent Dissociative Disorder
If your teen does have a dissociative disorder, it is likely one of three diagnoses that make up the group of dissociative disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). They are
- Dissociative Amnesia
- Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder
- Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder or MPD)
Treating these disorders include therapy, medication, or both.
In therapy, a psychologist or therapist will do his or her best to address the trauma itself. Typically, an adolescent might do his or her best to avoid, often unconsciously, certain intense emotions. Some of these include powerlessness, helplessness, vulnerability, anxiety, rage, guilt, and shame. Researchers have concluded that those who have experienced trauma can feel the emotional responses to that event, years later, to a similarly intense degree. The part of the brain that was stimulated, the amygdala, is slow to recover. This heightened brain state plus the body’s deregulated biochemistry and a misfiring of neurons in the brain can continue to take place again and again. It’s common for adolescents who have experienced trauma to disconnect from the feelings and physical sensations that accompanied a traumatic experience. It’s typical for those suffering from dissociative disorders to avoid feelings as a way to cope with the trauma experienced.
A significant part of therapeutic treatment involves exploring the feelings associated with trauma and learning how to appropriately face them without becoming overwhelmed, which is precisely what happens during a traumatic event. Symptoms of dissociation usually continue until a safe, therapeutic investigation of the traumatic event takes place and an adolescent is able to process and integrate the intense feelings associated with the trauma.
In order to therapeutically treat adolescent Dissociative Disorder, the most severe of the dissociative disorders, psychotherapy attempts to establish a therapeutic relationship with the particular personality that is the most harmful. Attempts to reduce this behavior are a focus in therapy. As well as trying to establish communication among the various personalities. Establishing dialogue between personalities helps with retrieving memories of trauma. Then they work with the client to heal from these early difficult experiences.
In addition to therapy, medication might also be used as a part of the treatment plan for dissociative disorders, from the most severe to mild forms of dissociation. Because dissociative disorders are often the result of trauma, they typically co-occur with depression and anxiety. For this reason, anti-anxiety and anti-depressants are frequently used as a form of medication treatment.
Medication and Therapy
However, it is common that both therapy and medication would be used for a combined form of treatment. Research indicates that the combination of both medication and therapy yields the best results. This can be particularly true for adolescents. Psychotherapy can be the venue for explaining why medication or other forms of treatment are necessary. As well as provide a clear explanation a teen’s diagnosis. Most teenagers are opposed to medication. And some don’t want to participate in other forms of treatment, such as group therapy or rehabilitative services. A therapist can assist in outlining the benefits of treatment and facilitate an ongoing open dialogue about these topics.
Depending on the severity of the adolescent dissociative disorder, treatment can facilitate a return to normal functioning. With the right therapeutic and pharmacological support, a teen with Dissociative Amnesia or Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder can eventually return to his or her regular work, home, and school schedule if it had been interrupted by the trauma or disorder. However, because of the severity of DID, treatment might not always lead full recovery.