Trauma-focussed therapy is an effective, recommended treatment for PTSD for children and teenagers. Medication is not recommended as the first line treatment.
The recommended treatment for children and teens diagnosed with PTSD is a ‘talking therapy’ known as trauma-focussed cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT). This has been found to be helpful for children of early primary school age and older. Treatment is tailored to the age and developmental stage of the young person being treated.
Most people, when something bad happens to them, try to avoid thinking about it or talking about it, as it makes them feel uncomfortable and upset. But it is this avoidance that keeps the person always on edge and stops the mind from being able to make sense of the memory and pack it safely away.
Trauma-focussed therapy for children and teenagers works by gently supporting and encouraging them to start to talk about or express their feelings about the traumatic event in a way that is safe and in a way that helps their minds make sense of what has happened. This treatment teaches age-appropriate skills to help the young person better manage their scary or upsetting feelings about the trauma.
What will happen during trauma-focussed therapy?
During trauma-focussed therapy the child or teenager will:
- learn about the type of traumatic event experienced (e.g., how common it is), and common reactions to trauma (e.g., upsetting memories or nightmares, feeling scared, feeling worried, crying)
- how to relax and manage worries or anxiety
- be helped to create a coherent story of the traumatic event, and to correct any unhelpful beliefs they may have about the event (e.g., blaming themselves)
- be gradually exposed to trauma-related objects or situations that they fear or avoid
- be helped to get back into everyday activities
Parents or carers will also be supported, with the aim of helping their child recover.
What you can do to support your child
As a parent you can help your child by:
- repeatedly reassuring them that they are safe, and that the traumatic event is over
- keep up old routines as much as possible, and be consistent in your responses and interactions with your child and ensure that you are managing your own distress well
- provide opportunities for your child to talk about what happened and how they are feeling – but only if they want to
- encourage them to play, draw, write, or use other creative activities to help express themselves
How to choose a counsellor for your child
When choosing a counsellor for your child, it is OK to discuss the following points.
- Ask to see their qualifications and ask if they have had extra training in working with children and adolescents, and particularly in trauma-focussed therapy for children and adolescents.
- Ask if you will be involved in your child’s counselling sessions. It is usual for parent(s) to be involved in at least some of the sessions so they can help the child with some of the strategies at home and support them through the therapy process.
- Once the counsellor has made a diagnosis, ask if you and your child will be involved in deciding on the best treatment plan. It is important that you are both actively involved in deciding what will work best.