An Investigation of the Relationship Between Childhood Trauma Type and Emerging Adult Distress with a Help-Seeking College Student Population
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Successful negotiation of emerging adult transitions predicts positive developmental outcomes across the lifespan. Emerging adults who have experienced childhood trauma are at increased risk for maladaptive development. The purpose of this dissertation study was to (a) provide descriptive demographic and health information about emerging adult survivors of childhood trauma seeking support from a university counseling center and (b) investigate the impact that different types of childhood trauma had on psychological symptoms and aspects of distress experienced by that population during college. It was hypothesized that there would be no significant differences in student distress based on single-type abuse, but that there would be significant differences based on the experience of polyvictimization, with multi-type abuse related to increased distress. Extant client data collected by the University of Oregon Counseling and Testing Center (UO-UCTC) were used to meet study objectives. Participants were college students, age 18-25 years, who voluntarily sought mental health services from UO-UCTC and who endorsed childhood trauma experiences on their intake paperwork. Results from descriptive, finite mixture modeling, logistic regression, chi-square, and multiple regression analyses revealed that (a) there were unique relationships between trauma type and a variety of demographic variables; (b) help-seeking emerging adults reported experiencing childhood emotional single-type abuse most frequently, with childhood emotional-physical abuse being the most commonly reported form of multi-type abuse; (c) the sample endorsed higher than typical psychological symptoms and aspects of distress both in terms of quantity and severity, with particularly elevated depression, family distress, and generalized anxiety scores; (d) a five-component solution emerged, classifying participants into five clusters of symptom reporting; however, no relationship was found between symptom cluster and childhood trauma type; (e) the probability of experiencing generalized anxiety and/or family distress was related to the type of childhood trauma experienced; and (f) the severity of generalized anxiety and/or family distress that participants reported was significantly related to the type of childhood trauma they experienced. Findings highlight the importance of contextualizing current abuse typologies and assessing multi-type abuse. Recommendations for expanding definitions of trauma and providing care to emerging adult survivors of childhood trauma on college campuses are discussed.