Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioural therapy proves effective in treating young people with PTSD

Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioural therapy proves effective in treating young people with PTSD

6 April 2021

Orygen researchers have found that trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT) is a feasible, acceptable and potentially clinically effective treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in young people aged 12-25 years, who have been exposed to interpersonal trauma.

The pilot study conducted at headspace Sunshine in Melbourne, found that after treatment, most young people no longer had a diagnosis of PTSD, or had depression or anxiety. Functional aspects of their lives also improved in terms of work and study.

Orygen researcher Wilma Peters, who led the study, said interpersonal trauma among young people is highly prevalent.

“When we speak of interpersonal trauma, we’re referring to physical, emotional, sexual abuse and neglect and maltreatment.

“More that 80 per cent of young people have been exposed to trauma at any point in time, although not all of them develop symptoms.”

Ms Peters said, for many young people, the negative impact of these experiences may persist, exacerbate over time or develop later in life.

“Interpersonal traumas are rarely an isolated incident; different forms of abuse often co-occur and the greater the number and severity of the experiences the greater the risk of poor mental health and functional impairment.”

“Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion about what constitutes TF-CBT in Australia,” Ms Peters said.

“TF-CBT is not just cognitive behavioural therapy and talking about trauma. Instead, it is a phased based intervention that includes: a stabilisation phase; trauma narration or exposure and trauma resolution phase; and a consolidation and future planning phase.

“This pilot study referenced TF-CBT developed by Professors Cohen, Mannarinno and Deblinger – it is the only evidence based intervention for children and adolescents.”

Ms Peters said, in community mental health settings trauma therapy is not always recognised as something that a young person specifically needs and is not offered as a specialist service.

“Not only that, many clinicians are reluctant to treat trauma out of fear of re-traumatising the young person, to the point where they may self-harm or even suicide.

“During our study there were no incidents of self-harm. Young people were able to talk safely about their trauma in a fully supported way without experiencing unnecessary distress, or self-harming or suicide.”

Ms Peters said the next step was to conduct a randomised clinical trial to fully examine the effectiveness of TF- CBT on PTSD and other frequently co-occurring symptoms, such as anxiety, depression and substance use.

“It is hoped that further research will allow young people who have experienced interpersonal trauma to access specialist early intervention services, offering them an opportunity to reach their full potential as they move into adulthood.”

The study was recently published in Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research and Practice.

Ms Peters was partly funded by the Margaret Cohan Research Scholarship.