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Researchers Clueless about How to Help Children Deal with Psychological Stress

Update Date: Feb 11, 2013 09:13 AM EST

A new research says that there are currently no evidence-based therapies that can help children and teens deal with psychological stress after witnessing a traumatic event.

This finding is particularly disturbing because at present, an estimated two out of every three children will face a traumatic event before turning 18 years of age.

The study was based on a review that included 6,647 abstracts. Researchers found some 21 trials and one cohort study on the subject. Study analysis showed that the best way to help children cope with psychological stress was exposure to intervention programs delivered at schools which included cognitive behavior therapy. The study review found no evidence of medications helping children cope with stress.

Valerie Forman-Hoffman, Ph.D., a research epidemiologist at RTI International and lead author of the study said that the current scientific literature available on how to help children who have witnessed a traumatic event gives little information. "This is particularly discouraging given recent shootings at schools and other places where children have been victims," Forman-Hoffman added.

"These findings serve as a call to action: psychotherapeutic intervention can provide some benefit to children exposed to traumatic events, but far more research is needed to make definitive conclusions. Because trauma is a common and costly source of childhood psychological distress, it is critical to understand effective forms of treatment," said Adam Zolotor, M.D., a family physician at the University of North Carolina and a co-author of the review, according to a news release.

"We really don't have a gold standard treatment right now," said William Copeland, a psychologist and researcher at Duke University Medical Center, reports The Associated Press. He added that many doctors treating these kids may be "patching together a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and that might not add up to the most effective treatment for any given child." Copeland wasn't part of the current research.

The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.

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