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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Effective for Treating Trauma Symptoms in Children and Teens

Many Mental Health Clinicians Using Other, Unproven Therapies

For Immediate Release: September 9, 2008
Contact: CDC Division of Media Relations, Phone: 404-639-3286



Individual and group cognitive behavioral therapy is effective in reducing depressive disorders, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder or other trauma symptoms in children and teenagers, according to an extensive review of dozens of studies conducted by the Task Force on Community Preventive Services, an independent group of scientists partially funded by the federal government.

However, many clinicians are using other types of therapy, such as art, play or drug therapy, which are not proven to be effective. The findings are published in the September issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Cognitive therapy focuses on a person′s thoughts and beliefs, and how they influence mood and actions, and aims to change a person′s distorted thinking patterns. Behavioral therapy focuses on actions and aims to change unhealthy behavior patterns.

Mental Health organizations have estimated that more than 75 percent of U.S. mental health professionals who treat children and teens with post traumatic stress disorder are using therapies that are not known to be effective.

“The good news is there is substantial research showing the effectiveness of group or individual cognitive behavioral therapy in treating children and teens experiencing the psychological effects of trauma. We hope these findings will encourage clinicians to use the therapies that are shown to be effective,” said Robert Hahn, Ph.D., MPH, coordinating scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Community Guide Branch and an author of the Task Force report.

In addition to individual and group cognitive therapy, the Task Force evaluated other interventions including art therapy, play therapy, drug therapy, and psychological debriefing, but could not find sufficient scientific evidence to support their use. The Task Force recommends that more research be done on other forms of therapy to determine whether or not they might be effective.

“Childhood trauma is a widespread problem with both short- and long-term consequences. Many kids with symptoms of trauma go undiagnosed, which can lead to unhealthy behaviors in adulthood such as smoking and alcohol or drug abuse,” Hahn said. “Increased screening to identify trauma symptoms in children can help these kids get the therapy they need and lessen the likelihood they will engage in these risky health behaviors when they become adults.”

A summary of the Task Force research review is available at http://www.thecommunityguide.org/violence.

For more information about The Community Guide visit www.thecommunityguide.org.

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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

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