How to Heal Youth After Psychological Trauma?

child very surprised

Evidence-based psychotherapy is the general term for forms of psychotherapeutic mental health treatment that have had their effectiveness verified by well-constructed scientific studies. Not all forms of psychotherapy meet this standard, and many people fail to gain a significant benefit from participation in non-evidence-based approaches. According to the authors of a study review published in 2013 in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal Pediatrics, there are very few evidence-based treatment options for teenagers and children who develop mental disorders in the aftermath of traumatic experiences.

Evidence-Based Psychotherapy Basics

Psychotherapy is a broad field that covers a whole range of treatment techniques. All of these techniques stem from the use of a non-medication-based approach to address the effects of mental illness and support the mental well-being of generally healthy people. However, not all psychotherapeutic approaches produce the same results in various patient groups, or have received the same type of scientific scrutiny that mental health-related medications receive as a rule. Evidence-based psychotherapy, also known as evidence-based practice, is psychotherapy that has received considerable scientific scrutiny, usually in the form of well-structured and well-controlled clinical trials. Broadly speaking, clinical trials that produce evidence-based results involve large numbers of people, follow best practices for safeguarding the integrity of the gathered data, and feature detailed comparisons to other available options for addressing the effects of mental illness.

The most well-regarded form of evidence-based psychotherapy is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Mental health professionals use this term to refer to a range of specific psychotherapeutic techniques that use a collaboration between therapist and patient to identify a patient’s dysfunctional behavioral patterns and create alternative patterns that can replace the old habits over time. CBT-based techniques have been used to address the effects of a range of mental disorders, including depression, phobias and other anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Psychological Trauma in Teens and Children

Psychological trauma is a term mental health professionals use to describe the range of emotional reactions that appear in people who experience life-threatening events, or witness other people’s exposure to these kinds of events. Short-term forms of these reactions commonly include a shocked response or a refusal to admit the reality of a traumatic event. Longer-term traumatic reactions may include such things as mood swings, an unwanted mental/emotional reliving of a traumatic event, an increase in interpersonal problems, and physical symptoms such as accelerated heart and breathing rates, nausea or headaches. Types of events known for their ability to create traumatizing reactions include rape and other forms of sexual assault, natural disasters, child abuse, child neglect, death of a family member, exposure to terrorism, immediate threats of violence and involvement in serious accidents. Mental health conditions associated with trauma exposure include acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, various forms of depression and various types of anxiety disorder.

Current Evidence

In the study review published in Pediatrics, a multi-institution research team used the findings of 22 previous trials and studies to assess the state of evidence-based treatment for trauma-related ailments in teens and younger children that don’t stem from childhood sexual abuse, childhood physical abuse or childhood neglect. The authors of this review concluded that there is no firm evidence to support the effectiveness of any type of medication-based treatment for these ailments. They also concluded that there is only limited scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of psychotherapy as a treatment for trauma-related illnesses in minors that don’t stem from abuse or neglect. The firmest available evidence supports the usefulness of cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of anxiety disorders, depression and PTSD.


The authors of the study review in Pediatrics purposefully excluded the treatment of trauma related to childhood abuse and neglect from their work. They did this because another modern, large-scale study review specifically addresses these issues. Apart from any consideration about the treatment of abuse- and neglect-related trauma, the review’s authors emphasize their concern at the lack of evidence to support the use of most of the treatments currently employed to deal with the effects of psychological trauma in teenagers and younger children. They recommend that everyone involved with the formulation and funding of mental health research in the U.S. take some kind of action to improve this situation, and thereby help lower the chances that affected teens and children will fail to receive the help they need.

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