Kids get exposed to all sorts of traumatic events in their young lives and for most, they can escape from serious emotional harm. One way to do that is through treatment of the trauma.
But like treatment for many mental health issues, the variety of treatments available can be a little overwhelming. Treatment experts will extol the virtues of their own preferred modality of treatment, regardless of research findings or what-not. “This is what I learned, so this is what you get.”
Every now and again, researchers conduct large meta-analyses to try and answer the question, “Treatment-wise, what works for this concern?” A set of researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention led a study to examine this question as it relates to treating childhood trauma:
The seven evaluated interventions were individual cognitive–behavioral therapy, group cognitive behavioral therapy, play therapy, art therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and pharmacologic therapy for symptomatic children and adolescents, and psychological debriefing, regardless of symptoms. The main outcome measures were indices of depressive disorders, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder, internalizing and externalizing disorders, and suicidal behavior.
Strong evidence showed that individual and group cognitive–behavioral therapy can decrease psychological harm among symptomatic children and adolescents exposed to trauma. Evidence was insufficient to determine the effectiveness of play therapy, art therapy, pharmacologic therapy, psychodynamic therapy, or psychological debriefing in reducing psychological harm.
It doesn’t mean these other types of interventions are completely ineffective or don’t work… Just that this particular scientific analysis of the interventions did not find any significant impact of them.
What was clear to the researchers however was the effectiveness of good ol’ cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This stuff can apparently cure everything from depression to childhood trauma. (And it cuts through butter better than a hot knife!)
It is good stuff, but only when wielded in the hands of an experienced and well-trained cognitive behavioral therapist. Too many therapists adapt only a small set of CBT techniques and call it “CBT,” when in fact it probably has little resemblance to actual CBT. So if you’re going to find a good CBT therapist, make sure you ask about the therapist’s specific training and credentials in cognitive-behavioral therapy.
For kids grappling with childhood trauma, this is the first type of intervention I would seek out.
Wethington, H.R. et al. (2008). The Effectiveness of Interventions to Reduce Psychological Harm from Traumatic Events Among Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 35(3), 287-313.
Read the news article: Unproven therapies used on traumatized kids: study