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2020 Mar 16

Transcult Psychiatry

Key expressions of trauma-related distress in Cambodian children: A step toward culturally sensitive trauma assessment and intervention.


Figge CJ, Martinez-Torteya C, Taing S, Chhim S, Hinton DE
Transcult Psychiatry. 2020 Mar 16:1363461520906008.
PMID: 32178597.


More than half of all children in Cambodia experience direct abuse and over 70% experience other traumatic events, which significantly increase their risks for a range of physical and mental health problems. Additionally, Cambodian children face longstanding sociopolitical, intergenerational, and cultural factors that compound the impact of other trauma. As a result, rates of posttraumatic stress symptoms among Cambodian youth are high. However, care providers often rely on Western-based nosology that does not account for culturally specific expressions of trauma. A greater understanding of culturally-salient expressions of distress can help inform diagnostic assessment accuracy and treatment effectiveness and monitoring. The current study utilized a qualitative design to interview 30 Cambodian caregivers of children with trauma experiences and 30 Cambodian children (ages 10-13 years) with trauma experiences to identify key local expressions of trauma. Findings reveal certain PTSD symptoms and culturally-specific frequent and severe trauma-related problems for Cambodian children and domains of functioning impacted by trauma. Certain symptoms seem particularly important to evaluate in this group, such as anger, physical complaints (e.g., headache and palpitations), and cognitive-focused complaints (in particular, "thinking too much"). All caregivers and children reported physical health as impacted by trauma-related problems, highlighting a particularly salient domain of functioning for this population. Expressions of distress explored in the current study are discussed in the context of assessment and intervention development to inform diagnostic and clinical efforts for those working with trauma-exposed Cambodian children.