Psychological Therapy Improves Symptoms in Children with PTSD

Most people probably tend to identify post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD, with combat veterans or other adults who have undergone some sort of intensely traumatizing experience. In fact, PTSD can affect people who have lived through a violent crime, a natural disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, a traffic accident or even domestic abuse. Furthermore, the victims of PTSD are not only adults. Children too can suffer from after-effects following these sorts of traumatic events.

In adults, the disorder is usually recognizable as sufferers re-live their event(s) over and over, often through nightmares. Adults with PTSD usually become hyper-vigilant in an effort to guard themselves from ever being victimized. Unexplainable aggression may also arise. In children, PTSD can look a bit different. Children with the condition may fall behind developmentally and/or may begin to demonstrate behavior problems. Thus, different symptoms could warrant different treatments between adult and childhood patients with PTSD.

A recent study looked at what may be the best treatments for children living with PTSD. Researchers in the study compared data from more than one dozen (14) related studies looking to shed light on what makes effective childhood PTSD treatment. The studies reflected findings from over 750 participants, ages 3-18 years. All of the subjects had experienced trauma through violence, sexual abuse, a natural disaster or traffic accident.

Since children with PTSD frequently show signs of depression and heightened anxiety, the researchers were particularly interested to see how well psychological therapies helped young children and teens. The children and teenagers examined through the study review underwent three months of therapies. The best results were observed in subjects who received cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for three months. These children showed lowered symptoms of both depression and anxiety after being treated with CBT.

Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on learning to recognize and re-direct negative thinking patterns. Based on the idea that we act on what we think and believe, this form of therapy places great emphasis on training in taking control of one’s own thought life. Children and teens would be helped to see how they are processing what has happened, how they believe it should or should not affect them and how a healthy way of thinking about the event(s) can change their current situation.

Those involved in this most recent study review suggest that long-range studies are needed in order to properly determine just how effective these psychological therapies are over time. Still, the initial reports which point to the efficacy of counseling therapies such as CBT are encouraging. It is to be hoped that by dealing with the trauma-affected thinking patterns early on, the later need for pharmacological remedies can be avoided.