Treating posttraumatic stress disorder in children

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Schwartz, C., Yung, D., Barican, J., Gray-Grant, D., Cairncross, N., & Waddell, C. (2021). Treating posttraumatic stress disorder in children. Children’s Mental Health Research Quarterly, 15(2), 1–16. Vancouver, BC: Children’s Health Policy Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University.

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Background: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects approximately 0.1% of children who have been exposed to serious adversities. We therefore set out to identify effective interventions for treating childhood PTSD.

Methods: We used systematic review methods to identify randomized controlled trials (RCTs) evaluating treatment interventions for children who had diagnosed with PTSD. After applying our rigorous inclusion criteria, we accepted five RCTs – evaluating three psychosocial interventions and one medication.

Results: Prolonged Exposure for Adolescents and KIDNET, both based on cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), showed significant benefits for children, including reduction of PTSD diagnoses, symptoms, and overall functioning compared to controls. In contrast, D-cycloserine failed to show benefit for children compared to controls. In a head-to-head trial, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and CBT both reduced PTSD diagnoses and symptoms, with EMDR outperforming CBT in reducing diagnoses by parent-report at one-year follow-up.

Conclusions: Preventing childhood adversities is priority. But when a child develops PTSD, access to effective treatment is crucial. CBT was effective in reducing diagnoses and/or symptoms across four RCTs in our systematic review. 

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