Is Trauma-Focused CBT Right for My Child?

CBT and Early Childhood Trauma

Childhood trauma can have a lasting impact on a young person’s development, so finding support to help him or her effectively cope with what happened is essential. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective and best-studied forms of therapy, and trauma-focused CBT was specifically developed to address childhood trauma using the CBT approach. While most children who’ve suffered trauma can benefit from the treatment, it isn’t right for every situation, so finding out whether it’s right for your child is a good idea before going ahead.

What Is Trauma-Focused CBT?

Trauma-focused CBT is a short-term therapy designed to help children and their parents work through a trauma. The treatment aims to help children understand that what happened wasn’t their fault, reduce shame, help with any symptoms related to the trauma and ensure healthy development. It typically lasts for 12 to 18 sessions, depending on the situation. The core of what trauma-focused CBT involves is encapsulated in the acronym “PRACTICE”:

  • Psychoeducation about childhood trauma and parenting skills
  • Relaxation techniques suited to the child and parent
  • Affective (emotional) expression and regulation skills
  • Cognitive coping skills and trauma processing
  • Trauma narrative: Helping children create a narrative (often artistically or creatively) about the trauma and their experiences.
  • In vivo exposure and coping with “reminders” of the trauma
  • Conjoint parent-child therapy sessions
  • Enhancing future safety and development

Is Trauma-Focused CBT Right for My Child? Six Key Questions to Ask Yourself

  • When did the trauma occur? Trauma-focused CBT only works when the child can remember the trauma, so trauma from infancy often can’t be addressed in this way.
  • How old is he/she? The treatment is geared toward the needs of children, but generally the recommended age range is between 3 and 18.
  • Does he/she run away from home? This is a sign of other issues that ideally have to be managed prior to starting trauma-focused CBT. The treatment brings up strong emotions, and this could prompt your child to run away from home.
  • What type of environment is he/she in? Due to the strong emotions brought up by treatment, it’s important that your child has a safe, stable home environment.
  • Does he/she have suicidal thoughts or self-harm? This is a serious issue that should be dealt with before starting trauma-focused CBT.
  • Does he/she abuse drugs? In this case, you should find him or her support in overcoming the addiction before progressing.

If your child has no other major psychological issues, is within the recommended age range and doesn’t abuse drugs or alcohol, trauma-focused CBT is one of the best approaches you can take for dealing with trauma. If you’re concerned about your child’s suitability, you can always discuss the issue in detail with a trained therapist, who will be able to assess the situation and help you find appropriate support.

Resources

“Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT)” by Judy Cohen

http://www.nctsn.org/nctsn_assets/pdfs/promising_practices/TF-CBT_fact_sheet_3-20-07.pdf

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