Martha Rodriquez, LCSW, Service Manager, Recovery, Broward County Public Schools
You have probably heard about TF-CBT (Trauma Focused - Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and yet may not have a clue what this is or why you should consider this as a form of intervention in your child/adolescents’ school. How can it really help your child address specific emotional and mental health needs while at the same time support them and you to overcome the destructive effects of early trauma? How can the use of this therapy be helpful in preventing school violence?
Trauma Focused Behavioral Therapy was developed by Doctors Anthony Mannarino, Judith Cohen, and Esther Deblinger. Studies conducted have demonstrated that TF-CBT is superior for improving children’s trauma symptoms and responses. TF-CBT not only address symptoms of PTSD it also addresses other trauma impacts including: anxiety, cognitive and behavioral problems, effective parenting skills, and the parent/caregiver’s distress about the child’s/participants traumatic experience.
Why we need Trauma Informed Schools?
Therefore, it is not a surprise that Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is an essential tool in School Violence Prevention. It is staggering how many students enter the educational system with symptoms of PTSD and/or exposure to trauma. As well as preexisting and/or developing concerns related to Mental Health and Mental Illness.
To prevent violence in schools we need to use interventions such as TF-CBT that address the especially sensitive and unique problems of youth with post-traumatic stress and mood disorders resulting from abuse, violence, or grief. Sources: TFCBT.ORG, “Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy.” Psychologytoday.com.
1. TFCBT allows for Early Identification of Trauma
Trauma exposure is associated with increased risk for medical and mental health problems including Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, substance abuse, anger management, and attempted and completed suicide. Early identification and treatment of traumatized children can prevent these potentially serious and long-term negative outcomes.
Students who are exposed to violence, natural disasters, and loss can potentially experience severe emotional impacts leading to the development of PTSD symptoms. These same students are more likely to have behavioral problems, poorer school performance, more days of school absence, and feelings of depression and anxiety.
Since trauma can lead to an increase in emotional, behavioral or psychological problems, as well as academic failure, we need to look at the use of CBT strategies in schools which can help to reduce students’ behavioral problems, difficulties with forming relationships, negative thinking, self- regulation that can all lead to violence. Source: www.nasponline.org
2. Parents/Caregivers are an essential part of the participants treatment
This is because, parent’s PTSD symptoms and/or responses can impact a child’s response to trauma. Through treatment involvement parents can learn skills to effectively address their own feelings of distress about the child’s trauma and in turn provide positive support improving the participants treatment outcome.
Thus, parents are truly an essential piece to their child’s/adolescent’s treatment. Source: Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Traumatized Children and Families. (Judith A. Cohen, M.D. and Anthony P. Mannarino, Ph.D.)
3. Anyone who has experienced a single or repeated experience of, physical, mental, or sexual abuse, or who has developed post-traumatic symptoms, depression, or anxiety as a result of the loss of a loved one or exposure to violence in the home or community can benefit from TF-CBT. Trauma can lead to lasting changes in brain structure (e.g., reduced overall size and underdeveloped cortex) and function (e.g., irritability, excitability, and impulsivity).
Trauma-focused CBT is a family-based treatment for traumatized children with strong empirical support for improving PTSD, depression, anxiety, behavioral, cognitive, relationship and other problems. CBT therapies aim to address negative patterns and distortions in the way we look at the world and ourselves. Source: “The Role of Schools in Supporting Traumatized Students”, Eric Rossen and Katherine Cowan, Principals Research Review.
4. TFCBT help’s parents recognize and respond appropriately while setting appropriate behavioral limits.
If parents can recognize and respond appropriately to their children’s trauma, they will be better able to respond to their child, while setting appropriate behavioral limits.
Parents will learn to provide their child with ongoing opportunities to relearn; that people can be safe.
As a result there are many reasons to suggest that family-focused treatment that integrally includes parents will significantly enhance outcomes for traumatized children.
5. Here’s what you can expect from therapy:
Parent component includes parenting skills
Affect identification and regulation
Trauma narration and cognitive processing of traumatic experiences
In vivo mastery of trauma reminders
Conjoint child-parents’ sessions
Enhancing safety and future development
6. You can find a Trauma Focused Behavioral Therapist in your area!
I understand that it can be difficult to find a professional in your area who is qualified in and specialized in TFCBT, however it is possible. Click here for a list of sites that can help you find a specialist who can help.
A final word … Nearly 35 million children have experienced at least one event that could lead to childhood trauma (Child and Adolescent, 20120). Schools have an important role in decreasing the impact of a traumatic event on a child.
But, we must be supportive of our schools’ Mental Health Initiatives that raise awareness, education, and help build resilience to ensure a safe school environment.
The use of TFCBT can play a key role in the identification, support, and reduction of school violence in our schools. If Parents play a key role in their child’s treatment outcome, and act as active participant and advocate for their children, we can ensure higher success rates in treatment outcomes. Source: “Climate safety and crisis/mental-health-resources.” nasponline.org
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
Trauma Sensitive Schools