Tailoring Short-Term Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Pediatric Trauma Patients

February 8, 2018 - 9:30am

In light of a recent case in California in which 13 siblings were imprisoned by their parents, people have questioned how the siblings, and individuals who have been held captive in other cases, will be able to recover from this abuse. The findings in Jan Hoffman's article, "Treatment Offers Hope for Imprisoned California Siblings," printed in The New York Times will be summarized below as a response to this concern. 

Fortunately, “there are good treatments available for children seriously abused and traumatized,“ said John Fairbank, co-director of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress and professor at Duke University. Dr. Fairbank states there has been encouraging clinical data supporting the effectiveness of short-term cognitive behavioral therapy tailored for trauma patients. This approach was developed in the early 1990s but has just begun to grow in popularity over the last 15 years.  

Anthony Mannarino, director of the Center for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh is also a co-developer of trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT). He says the treatment typically lasts from 12-16 sessions and involves working with the child and their new caregivers. It is essential to work with the child to manage their thoughts and feelings about the experience. For instance, Dr. Mannarino said "maybe the parents said, ‘You deserve what you’re getting, it’s your fault,’ and the child may have internalized shame. Helping them talk and processing that distortion gives them a chance to understand that they are not to blame.” Additionally, caregivers are included in this treatment so that they can work towards comprehending that the child’s behavior “expresses what happened to the child, as opposed to who they really are," said Dr. Mannarino.

TF-CBT is one of the most studied therapies of those available to help traumatized patients. A multisite study in 2004 randomly assigned 203 children - experiencing symptoms of PTSD relating to previous sexual abuse - from ages 8 to 14 and their caretakers to either TF-CBT or a talk therapy model known as “child-centered” therapy. The results demonstrated that the TF-CBT patients had significantly more improvement in measures of PTSD, depression, and behavior.

One can only hope that the individuals involved in this recent California case will have access to adequate services and, as Los Angeles psychologist Nora Baladerian stated, that “the attention will also help other victims whose cases might not have been attended to with such alacrity.”

Hoffman, J. (2018, January 17). Treatment Offers Hope for Imprisoned California Siblings. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/17/health/california-13-kids-siblings.html