Center for Anxiety & Behavioral Change
Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TF-CBT)
According to child trauma experts, trauma occurs when a child experiences an intense, scary event that threatens his or her emotional and/or physical well-being. These events can include, but are not limited to natural disasters, witnessing or experiencing violence, injury, physical or sexual abuse, accidents, and medical procedures. Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) is a well-established, research supported treatment that has been shown to help children and teens who are experiencing significant emotional and behavioral difficulties following traumatic life-events. Children may experience heightened levels of anxiety or fear, and may feel that they are regularly reliving or re-experiencing their trauma. Other concerns parents commonly observe in children after a traumatic event include difficulty sleeping, nightmares, irritability, and more frequent ‘tantrums’ in younger children. Children often try to avoid people, places, and things that remind them of their traumatic experience. These emotional and behavioral reactions to trauma commonly interfere in children’s daily life and affect behavior, school performance, and peer and family relationships.
TF-CBT is a therapeutic approach that targets the specific difficulties exhibited by children following traumatic life events. TF-CBT provides new skills to help children and families process thoughts and feelings related to their trauma, manage distressing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and practice coping strategies to alleviate negative symptoms. While the psychologist often meets with the child individually, sessions are also completed with the parents/caregivers without the child present to help parents learn ways to support their child’s adjustment and to manage behavioral concerns. Sessions are also completed with parents and children together to help facilitate coping and healthy communication about the traumatic event. During the treatment process, children may create a trauma narrative in which they re-tell their experiences with therapist support. The narrative helps children master their anxiety and face their fears within a safe and supportive environment. The narrative may include art, stories, or play. Parent/caregiver involvement is a very important component of this treatment to help families effectively manage their children’s symptoms and to foster the healing process.