Few treatments help traumatized children

February 11, 2013

A review of clinical interventions for children exposed to traumatic events has found that few treatments actually helped them to heal. The body of evidence provides little insight into how such treatments might influence healthy long-term development in young victims.

A review of clinical interventions for children exposed to traumatic events has found that few treatments actually helped them to heal.

Investigators looked at 6,647 abstracts and found 21 trials and 1 observational study (25 articles total) that met criteria for clinical interventions associated with symptoms of posttraumatic stress, anxiety, depression, and anger in children who survived or witnessed traumatic events.

They found no evidence that any interventions influenced healthy long-term development, although some school-based psychotherapy sessions that included cognitive behavior therapy were associated with changes in symptoms. No pharmacotherapies showed any effect.

Researchers said the findings were discouraging in light of recent events that have included school shootings and other situations where children were victims of violence. They noted that the evidence was not enough to recommend best treatment practices for these situations.

Two-thirds of children and adolescents aged younger than 18 years will experience at least 1 traumatic event, including natural disasters, accidents, war, or violence. Many of these children will not suffer negative, long-term consequences in psychological or social functioning, but those who develop symptoms of posttraumatic stress often carry some degree of impairment into adulthood.

Effective treatments for children exposed to trauma are critical to helping them cope with stress symptoms caused by these events, the researchers said, and further studies are needed to identify clinically meaningful interventions.