There’s good news for children who have had a traumatic experience (and for the caregivers who watch over them). A study released today found that a brief therapeutic intervention greatly diminished the symptoms of post-traumatic stress kids often develop after experiencing abuse or violence or witnessing something deeply disturbing.
After just four to six structured sessions with a trained clinician—one with parents or caregivers, one with the child, then two sessions with them together—children who had suffered sexual abuse or violence were 73 percent less likely than those in a control group to have later developed partial or full-blown PTSD.
During each session, a trained counselor offered reassurance and support, and measured progress. Dr. Steven R. Marans, professor of psychiatry at Yale and director of the Childhood Violent Trauma Center at Yale University, explains how the new approach works, and why it’s so important to include caregivers, not a traditional part of trauma treatment:
When children are alone with and don’t have words to describe their traumatic reactions, symptoms and symptomatic behaviors are their only means of expression. And caregivers are often unable to understand the connection between the traumatic event and their children’s symptoms and behaviors. To heal, children need recognition and understanding from their caregivers.
The current study, which included nearly 500 children, corroborated the results of an earlier study of 176 kids. Evaluated three months later after the treatment, those who received the intervention were 54 percent less likely to develop symptoms of PTSD in children, including sleep disturbances, intrusive thoughts, depression, anxiety, tantrums or feelings of helplessness or hopelessness.