College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Spring 6-14-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Cecilia Martinez-Torteya, PhD

Second Advisor

Ida Salusky, PhD

Third Advisor

Bernadette Sanchez, PhD


More than half of all children in Cambodia experience direct abuse and over 70% other traumatic events, which significantly increase risk for a range of physical and mental health problems. Additionally, Cambodian children face longstanding sociopolitical, intergenerational, and cultural factors that compound the impact of direct victimization. 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. Lack of knowledge surrounding the expressions of distress that best represent the experience of traumatized Cambodian children hinders diagnostic accuracy and treatment effectiveness. To address this problem, 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 posttraumatic 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 posttraumatic 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.

SLP Collection