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Psychological therapies for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder in children and adolescents

Gillies D, Taylor F, Gray C, O'Brien L, D'Abrew N
Published Online: 
12 December 2012

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is highly prevalent in children and adolescents who have experienced trauma and has high personal and health costs. The aim of this review was to examine the effectiveness of all psychological therapies for the treatment of PTSD in children and adolescents. 

We searched for all randomised controlled trials comparing psychological therapies to a control, other psychological therapies or other therapies for the treatment of PTSD in children and adolescents aged 3 to 18 years. We identified 14 studies with a total of 758 participants. The types of trauma related to the PTSD were sexual abuse, civil violence, natural disaster, domestic violence and motor vehicle accidents. Most participants were clients of a trauma-related support service.

The psychological therapies used in the included studies were cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), exposure-based, psychodynamic, narrative, supportive counselling, and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR). Most included studies compared a psychological therapy to a control group. No study compared psychological therapies to medications or medications in combination with a psychological therapy.

There was fair evidence for the effectiveness of psychological therapies, particularly CBT, for the treatment of PTSD in children and adolescents for up to a month following treatment. More evidence is required for the effectiveness of psychological therapies in the longer term and to be able to compare the effectiveness of one psychological therapy to another.

The findings of this review are limited by the potential for bias in the included studies, possible differences between studies which could not be identified, the small number of identified studies and the low number of participants in most studies.