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Children suffering from exposure to traumatic occurrences, like the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, need effective intervention to help them cope with the stress and anxiety of surviving catastrophic events.
For those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from events like abuse, violence and natural disasters, psychological therapies may be helpful. In the first review of young people with PTSD, researchers found that children and teenagers diagnosed with the disorder showed signs of improvement up to three months following psychological treatment.
In children, PTSD can lead to delayed development and behavioral problems. The disorder is associated with anxiety, depression and suicidal tendencies. There is no compelling evidence that prescribing drugs for PTSD works for young people. A number of psychological therapies are available, including supportive counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This is the first study to look at the effectiveness of these therapies on children.
Researchers reviewed data for 758 children between the ages of 3 and 18 suffering from PTSD due to sexual abuse, violence, road accidents or natural disasters. Children who participated in psychological therapies showed significant improvement. Their anxiety, depression and PTSD symptoms were all reduced.
“There is fair evidence for the effectiveness of psychological therapies, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, in treating post-traumatic stress disorder in children,” explained lead researcher Donna Gillies of the Western Sydney Local Health District in Westmead, Australia. “However, more effort needs to be devoted to increasing follow-up in children so we can understand whether these therapies are making a difference in the long-term.”
The positive effects of CBT were more documented than other type of intervention. Researchers are hoping for further studies to address the effects of different psychological therapies as well as any additive effect of drug therapy.
“More trials comparing the various psychological therapies are required to find out whether specific psychological theories are more effective for the treatment of PTSD in children and adolescents,” concluded Gillies.
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