Treatments under18

Treatments for PTSD & C-PTSD in children and young adults

If a child or young adult you know is displaying symptoms of PTSD, there are a number of treatment options that can be pursued.

Everyones recovery depends on a variety of factors, including the trauma’s severity and each individual’s resilience.  The important thing is that adolescents and kids feel supported and safe during treatment, particularly if they have been subject to abuse. Typically, children and young adults will be treated with psychotherapy, with medication as a secondary resource, but children and teens displaying depressive or panic symptoms alongside PTSD may be prescribed medication to complement psychotherapy.

Researchers generally agree that parents should be included in psychotherapeutic intervention for children and young adults with PTSD where possible. This can include teaching parents and caregivers how to manage symptoms of stress and trauma in the child’s home environment. Equally, if caregivers and guardians are displaying emotional distress as a result of the trauma, they may also benefit from psychotherapy, so as to be better able to respond to the child’s needs.

Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming

EMDR is recognised by the World Health Organisation (2013) as an effective therapy for children and adolescents who have experienced traumatic events. It also has the highest recommendation for Children and Adolescents with PTSD from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS, 2018).

AJ drew this after his EMDR treatment for PTSD.

It is really important to find a suitable child EMDR therapist who has been specially trained to work with children who can build a good therapeutic relationship with both you and your child. Please ensure that the therapist has attended an accredited training in EMDR (as recognised by the EMDR UK Association) and has also completed further accredited training to use EMDR with children and adolescents.

Many NHS services within the UK, Ireland, Scotland and Wales offer EMDR within CAMHS teams for children and adolescents.   There are also private or independent EMDR therapists or practitioners throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland and the EMDR Association website can help you to locate suitable accredited therapists in your area.

You can find out more about EMDR for children here and read AJ’s EMDR case study here

Talking therapies (with elements of CBT)

Otherwise known as ‘talk therapy’, this treatment will equip children – and often their families – with coping strategies. Children and teenagers will typically be gradually exposed to the traumatic event and experience, and the consequent memories, thoughts and feelings associated with the same. This helps the child to develop a feeling of mastery over their symptoms and learn how to better handle overwhelming feelings. Children and teenagers will usually learn how to:

  • Identify feelings of fear
  • Manage fear and anxiety via relaxation techniques
  • Talk – or, in the case of young children, play-act – the traumatic event. This helps release unconscious feelings related to the trauma
  • Re-write distorted cognitive assumptions – children will learn how to think about the trauma in a way that avoids self-blame or guilt
  • Restore trust in others and foster a feeling of hope for the future

Play Therapy

Play therapy is particularly effective for children aged 2 – 11. It can be significantly helpful for those children and teenagers who experience trouble expressing their thoughts and feelings. It gives children a confidential, nurturing environment in which they can play in the knowledge that they are safe – both physically and emotionally.

Play therapy helps a child or young adult to handle emotional problems and increase self-awareness, express feelings and experiences, manage behaviour, develop social skills, cope with traumatic symptoms and stress, and restore a sense of overall wellbeing.

Play therapy can include art therapy, dance, storytelling, drama or role-play, creative visualisation, and music.

You can read more about play therapy for PTSD here

Medication

There is very little empirical evidence as to the benefits of medication for children with PTSD. Some data suggests that citalopram, an SSRI, may be effective at mitigating the symptom clusters of PTSD in teenagers, so these may be prescribed in certain instances.

In combination with psychotherapy, medication can help ease a child if they are expressing severe anxiety, fear, or hopelessness. Medication is not, however, a ‘standalone’ treatment.

Family Therapy

Research has shown that ‘the most successful outcomes can be when the whole family receives help; even if the trauma was only experienced by the child themselves the repercussions will be felt across the other members of the family.’

 

NICE guidance updated in 2018 recommends the use of trauma focused psychological treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in adults and children, specifically the use of Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) and trauma focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Please remember, these aren’t meant to be medical recommendations, but they’re tactics that have worked for others and might work for you, too. Be sure to work with a professional to find the best methods for you.

Sources
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Symptoms of PTSD in children

Complex PTSD in children

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Treatments for PTSD

It is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help. For some, the first step may be watchful waiting, then exploring therapeutic options such as individual or group therapy – but the main treatment options in the UK are psychological treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting and understanding your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD. You can find out more in the links below, or here.