The research reported upon in this article was conducted to determine whether short-term cognitive-behavioral therapy would be an effective treatment for sexually abused children who had symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sexually abused 7 to 13 year-olds and their mothers or female guardians received one of three treatments or were referred to standard care within their communities.
The mothers and children who were offered treatment in the study received one of three types of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Therapists followed a detailed treatment manual in all cases and were closely supervised. The first group had child only therapy, in which children were seen for 45-minute sessions and their parents were given updates about the children's progress. The children learned coping skills, worked to confront and process their memories of the abuse, and learned body safety skills. In the parent only intervention, the mothers were seen in 45-minute sessions where they were taught parenting skills and learned how to use cognitive behavioral techniques to help reduce their children's PTSD symptoms such as anxiety and avoidance. The treatment sessions for the parent and child intervention blended the two approaches. In the early weeks, mothers and children were seen separately, with joint sessions added later in the treatment.
Before treatment began, children's PTSD symptoms, depression, anxiety and behavior were measured using standard tests. The mothers' parenting practices were assessed as well. This information provided baseline information against which participants' progress could be measured. At follow-up, mothers who had been in the parent-only or parent-and-child intervention reported that their own parenting skills and their children's behavior was improved. Their children also reported that they were less depressed. Improvement in PTSD symptoms was found among children in the child-only and parent-and-child treatments. These findings highlight the importance of including parents in treatment that aims to reduce acting-out behavior and depression among sexually abused children.
Further research among the children and mothers studied here was published by the authors in the article, "Maternal factors associated with sexually abused children's psychosocial adjustment."