Childhood maltreatment is one of the most important preventable risk factors for a wide variety of psychiatric disorders. Further, when psychiatric disorders emerge in maltreated individuals they typically do so at younger ages, with greater severity, more psychiatric comorbid conditions, and poorer response to established treatments, resulting in a more pernicious course with an increased risk for suicide. Practitioners treating children, adolescents, and young adults with psychiatric disorders will likely encounter the highest prevalence of clients with early-onset maltreatment-associated psychiatric disorders. These may be some of their most challenging cases.
In this report, we explore key validated alterations in brain structure, function, and connectivity associated with exposure to childhood maltreatment as potential mechanisms behind their patients’ clinical presentations.
We then summarize key behavioral presentations likely associated with neurobiological alterations and propose a toolkit of established trauma and skills-based strategies that may help diminish symptoms and foster recovery. We also discuss how some of these alterations may serve as latent vulnerability factors for the possible development of future psychopathology.
Research on the neurobiological consequences of childhood adversity provides a vastly enriched biopsychosocial understanding of the developmental origins of health and pathology that will hopefully lead to fundamental advances in clinical psychology and psychiatry.