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Behavioral Health Services at The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh
By Nancy Kennedy

Far too many children experience trauma and the impact is often profound and long term, but for Pittsburgh area families, there is an exceptional resource that is working to reduce that impact and offer children a brighter, more hopeful future. The Outpatient Behavioral Health services at The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh address the issue of childhood trauma with a holistic program that meets the child where they are so that they can achieve amazing results.

According to Amy Devinney, L.S.W., Director of Behavioral Health at The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh, the experience of trauma in children, as victims or as witnesses, is unfortunately more common than some might think. “The incidence is probably underestimated,” says Devinney. “Research shows that by their 16th birthdays, one in four American kids have experienced trauma and many have experienced multiple and repeated traumas. One in five behavioral health disorders in children are related to childhood trauma. We provide these services because we recognize that the need is great.”

Devinney and her team of skilled psychologists and social workers employ therapeutic interventions to reduce symptoms of stress, alleviate depression, improve behavior and help children to function more effectively at school and in their relationships. Devinney explains that there are three basic components to trauma: the event itself – what happened; the experience of it – how it felt and what it looked like for the child; and the effect – both the immediate and long term impact. “Some children will be so traumatized that they are unable to carry out daily activities. They may experience anxiety, depression, poor school performance and attendance, sleep disturbances and health problems.” Clinical interventions such as cognitive behavior therapy helps children by “connecting the dots between their thoughts and feelings,” Devinney says. “Cognitive behavior therapy includes having the child tell their story. Many children will need to tell what they experienced or witnessed, over and over again. Eventually, the trauma is reduced and things start to normalize.”

At The Children’s Institute, children with traumatic brain injury (TBI), for example, might be receiving rehabilitation but could benefit from behavioral health services. Amy Devinney explains that for these children, the event that led to their injury, such as a car accident or gunshot, has a profound impact. “A child with TBI has multiple traumas to process – the physical injury, pain, disability, time away from school, losses and more. It may be life-altering. The child will need a lot of help to cope with so much trauma.”

Every child is unique and some are more resilient than others, but Devinney encourages parents to become aware of the impact of trauma and to seek help if they have concerns about changes in their child or if they notice symptoms of stress. “We offer parents a warm welcome, respect, choices and comfort. Our approach is strength-based; we identify a family’s strengths and work to maximize them. We work with parents in partnership.” One of the behavioral health service’s goals is to reduce the stigma surrounding emotional and mental health treatment. “There is no shame in needing psychological treatment,” she says. “It’s no different than needing to see a physician about your physical health.”

It takes one hour to have your child assessed, Devinney tells parents. “If your child has stressors in the family, at school or in the community, it’s worth taking that hour and having an assessment. It’s an opportunity to talk about the problem. We’re here to help and we treat children ages three through the college years. We provide individual, family and group therapy.”

Dr. Wendy Pardee, President and CEO of The Children’s Institute, says that for a child with behavior problems related to trauma, early intervention makes a significant difference. “The earlier we can intervene and provide treatment, the better that child is positioned for success at school, within the family and in the community. At The Children’s Institute, we define trauma broadly, for example: the experience of hospitalization or divorce can be a trauma with lifelong implications. It can set the child up for behavioral and physical health concerns. There’s clearly a great need for behavioral health services for children and teens, and we want the community to know that we’re here, and we have a comprehensive range of services. We’re pleased that progress is being made in seeing behavioral services as a normal part of healthcare. Behavioral health means health.”

For more information about Behavioral Health services at The Children’s Institute, call (412) 420-2362 or visit amazingkids.org.

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