Adolescent Females With PTSD Benefit from Exposure Therapy

PTSDA specific form of exposure therapy used to treat certain anxiety disorders has been found to work for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in teenage girls who have been sexually abused.[1] This new treatment approach applies a prolonged form of exposure therapy, where patients revisit their trauma-related feelings and thoughts in a controlled environment, while practicing evidence-based relaxation skills.1

Although there is a high prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adolescents, evidence-based treatments, such as prolonged exposure therapy, have never been established.1

Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Edna Foa, Ph.D. said, “We hypothesized that prolonged exposure therapy could fill this gap and were eager to test its ability to provide benefit for adolescent patients.”1

There have been concerns that prolonged exposure therapy could exacerbate PTSD symptoms in adolescent patients who have not mastered the coping skills necessary for this type of exposure to be safely provided.1 However, this type of therapy has the most evidence-based establishment for treatment of adults with PTSD and is considered safe.1

Teenaged years are often a time when children begin to test limits and are in and out of situations that are both good and bad, with some influencing the path their lives take into adulthood.1 The six-year study by Foa and colleagues examined the benefit of a prolonged exposure program called Prolonged Exposure-A (PE-A), which was modified to meet the developmental stage of adolescence.1 It was compared with the supportive counseling in 61 adolescent girls with sexual abuse-related PTSD, ages 13 to 18.1 The clinical trial had 31 receive the prolonged exposure-A and 30 receive supportive counseling.1

Each participant received 14 60 to 90 minute sessions of either therapy in a community mental health setting.1 The counselors involved were familiar with supportive counseling, but not with PE-A before the study.1 They received PE-A training through a four-day workshop, followed by supervision every second week.1

The participants were assessed before, mid-way, and after treatment, as well as at a three, six, and 12-month follow-up.1 During treatment, participants who received PE-A demonstrated better improvement in their PTSD and depression symptoms severity, as well as in overall functioning.1 This was maintained throughout the 12-month follow-up.1 This proves that prolonged exposure therapy can be administered in a community setting by professionals with no prior training and still have a positive impact within this population.1

[1] Grohol, J. (2013). Teen Girls with PTSD Benefit from Exposure Therapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 26, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/12/26/teen-girls-with-ptsd-benefit-from-exposure-therapy/63777.html

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