PTSD in children quickly and effectively treatable within hours

June 29, 2017, University of Amsterdam
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Children and adolescents with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be successfully treated with only a few hours of EMDR or cognitive behavioral writing therapy (CBWT). This is the finding of a new research paper by the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and GGZ Rivierduinen (Trauma Center for Children and Youth). The paper was published on Thursday, 29 June in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder which can develop after exposure to a traumatic event such as a terrorist attack, a , sexual or physical abuse. Previous research shows that PTSD can be treated effectively in adults with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) or trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy/imaginary exposure. Until now, however, strong evidence for the efficacy of EMDR in children has been lacking.

For their study, Carlijn de Roos, a clinical psychologist and UvA researcher, and her fellow researchers compared the effect of EMDR with that of Cognitive Behavioral Writing Therapy (WRITEjunior) in children and adolescents in the age group 8 to 18 who had experienced a single traumatic event like a , rape, physical assault or traumatic loss. Both forms of treatment confront the traumatic memory without any preparatory sessions. In EMDR the traumatic memory is activated while at the same time the child's working memory is taxed with an external task (following the fingers of the therapist with the eyes). In writing therapy, the child writes a story on a computer, together with the therapist, about the event and the consequences, including all the horrid aspects of the memory. In the last session, the child shares the story of what happened to him or her with important others.

A total of 103 children and adolescents took part in the study. On average, four sessions were sufficient for successful treatment. 'EMDR and writing therapy were equally effective in reducing posttraumatic stress reactions, anxiety and depression, and behavioral problems. What's more, both proved to be brief and therefore cost effective', says De Roos. 'We literally used a stopwatch to time the length of both trauma treatments. This showed that EMDR reaches positive effects fastest (2 hours and 20 minutes on average) compared to the writing therapy (3 hours and 47 minutes on average). The most important thing, of course, was that the results were lasting, as shown during a follow-up measurement one year later.'

About 16% of children who are exposed to trauma develop PTSD. 'Children who do not get the right treatment suffer unnecessarily and are at risk of developing further problems and being re-traumatized', says De Roos. 'The challenge for health professionals is to identify symptoms of PTSD as quickly as possible and immediately refer for trauma treatment.' According to De Roos, screening for PTSD should become standard practice within the field of childcare for all disorders. 'When PTSD is determined, a brief trauma-focused treatment can significantly diminish symptoms. A brief will not only reduce suffering by child and family, but also lead to tremendous healthcare savings.'

It is important to conduct follow-up research into the effects of EMDR and writing in children with PTSD symptoms who have suffered from multiple traumatic experiences and in younger than eight, De Roos adds.

Explore further: Parents don't notice children's PTSD, may need support themselves

More information: Carlijn de Roos et al. Comparison of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, cognitive behavioral writing therapy, and wait-list in pediatric posttraumatic stress disorder following single-incident trauma: a multicenter randomized clinical trial, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (2017). DOI: 10.1111/jcpp.12768

Related Stories

Parents don't notice children's PTSD, may need support themselves

November 8, 2016
Young children may experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for years without it being recognised by their parents according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Sexual problems may be affected by evidence-based psychotherapy for PTSD

April 6, 2017
The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has published the research findings of a University of Kentucky researcher in its latest issue of the Clinician's Trauma Update. Assistant Professor of Psychology ...

Study reveals areas of the brain impacted by PTSD

January 23, 2017
Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and the VA Boston Healthcare System are one step closer to understanding the specific nature of brain changes associated with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD prevented by using Tetris in the emergency department

March 28, 2017
A single dose psychological intervention including the computer game Tetris can prevent the unpleasant, intrusive memories that develop in some people after suffering a traumatic event. Researchers have been able to demonstrate ...

Psychological therapies improve life for children with post-traumatic stress disorder

December 11, 2012
Children suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of traumatic events, including child abuse, may benefit from psychological therapies, according to a review published in The Cochrane Library. In the first ...

A new psychotherapy for overcoming trauma

February 2, 2016
A randomized controlled trial published in the current issue of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics sheds new therapeutic opportunities for overcoming trauma. Although there are effective treatments for posttraumatic stress ...

Recommended for you

College roommates underestimate each other's distress, new psychology research shows

February 19, 2018
College roommates are sensitive to their roommates' distress but tend to underestimate the level of distress being experienced by others, finds a newly published study from New York University psychology researchers.

Link between hallucinations and dopamine not such a mystery, finds study

February 16, 2018
Researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) and New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) found that people with schizophrenia who experience auditory hallucinations tend to hear what they expect, ...

People find comfort listening to the same songs over and over, study finds

February 16, 2018
With the frequency that some people play their favorite song, it's a good thing vinyl records aren't used often because they might wear out.

Ketamine found to reduce bursting in brain area reducing depression quickly

February 15, 2018
A team of researchers at Zhejiang University in China has found that the drug ketamine reduces neuronal bursting in the lateral habenula (LHb) brain region, reducing symptoms of depression in rodent models. In their paper ...

Evidence shows pets can help people with mental health problems

February 15, 2018
The study of 17 research papers by academics at the Universities of Manchester, Southampton and Liverpool, concludes that pets can help people manage their long-term mental health conditions.

What predicts the quality of children's friendships? Study shows cognition, emotion together play

February 15, 2018
Whether children think their peers' intentions are benign or hostile, and how those children experience and express their own emotions, may influence the quality of their friendships, according to a new study from the University ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

BubbaNicholson
1 / 5 (3) Jun 29, 2017
PTSD susceptibility results from a paternal facial skin surface lipid pheromone deficiency, easily remedied.
Captain Stumpy
not rated yet Jul 01, 2017
@FRAUD bubba the new age pheromone idiot quack
easily remedied
1- no, it isn't

2- until you learn something about PTSD (more than what the letters mean), you should STFU

3- you are making fraudulent pseudoscience medicinal claims based upon your delusional belief, not science
paternal facial skin surface lipid pheromone deficiency,
fraudulent and delusional blatantly false claim

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.