2005 Jordan Institute
10, No. 3
Effective Treatment for PTSD
When a child or adolescent has PTSD, timely diagnosis and treatment are crucial (NIMH, 2001). Indeed, if a person has symptoms for more than a year, it will usually be a lifelong condition if left untreated (APA, 1994). Child welfare agencies should therefore sustain or develop strong collaborative ties with mental health providers.
Ideally agencies will have access to a mental health professional who has experience treating PTSD in children and adolescents. Many therapists with this experience are members of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies <www.istss.org>. The SIDRAN Institute <www.sidran.org> also has a directory of therapists who treat clients who have experienced psychological trauma, childhood abuse, or dissociation. SIDRAN is a national nonprofit organization devoted to helping people who have experienced traumatic life events.
Child welfare agencies should monitor the child’s condition carefully to ensure he or she is receiving proven interventions, such as those described below.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This treatment has been proven effective with PTSD and the other four most common mental health diagnoses among foster children—oppositional defiant disorder, mood disorders and depression, adjustment disorder, and conduct disorder (Marshall, 2004). According to several major reviews of the research literature, trauma-focused CBT is clearly best practice with children who have been sexually abused and have PTSD symptoms (Chadwick Center, 2004).
In CBT, cognitive training helps children restructure their thoughts and feelings so they can live without feeling threatened. Behavioral interventions teach children to face their fears so they no longer avoid people and places that remind them of the event. Children are taught relaxation techniques and then carefully guided in telling the story of the event. These strategies teach children to handle their fears and stress effectively. In CBT parents or caregivers are often trained to help the child with new coping strategies (Goodman, 2002).
To learn more about CBT consult Closing the Quality Chasm in Child Abuse Treatment: Identifying and Disseminating Best Practices, available online at <www.chadwickcenter.org/kauffman.htm>.
Medication. Various medications have proven useful in helping adults reduce the overwhelming symptoms of arousal that often accompany PTSD. However, “research is just beginning on the use of medications to treat PTSD in children and adolescents” (NIMH, 2001).
Treatment Duration. A common period of time for treatment of PTSD is 6 to 12 weeks with occasional follow-up sessions, though treatment may be longer depending on a patient’s circumstances. For young children treatment may last a year or more. Research has shown that support from family and friends can be an important part of recovery (NIMH, 2001).