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Exposure Therapy Successfully Treats PTSD in Teens

Update Date: Dec 24, 2013 10:41 AM EST

Prolonged exposure therapy can successfully treat posttraumatic disorder in adolescent girls who have been sexually abused.

New research suggests that asking patients to revisit and recount out loud their trauma-related thoughts, feelings and situations is more successful than supportive counseling for treating PTSD.

Researchers explained that prolonged exposure therapy for adolescents with PTSD is still widely debated. While prolonged exposure therapy is the most established evidence-treatment for adults, some experts believe that the treatment could exacerbate PTSD symptoms in adolescent patients who have not mastered the coping skills necessary for this type of exposure to be safely provided.

The latest study compared the benefits of prolonged exposure program called prolonged exposure-A (PE-A), which was modified to meet the developmental stage of adolescents, with supportive counseling.

 The study involved 61 adolescent girls between the ages of 13 and 18 with sexual abuse-related PTSD. Researchers said that 31 received prolonged exposure-A, and 30 got supportive counseling.  Participants were evaluated treatment, mid-treatment and after treatment and at three, six and 12-month follow up.

The findings revealed that patients receiving PE-A showed greater decline in PTSD and depression symptom severity, and improvement in overall functioning.

"Another key finding of this research was that prolonged therapy can be administered in a community setting by professionals with no prior training in evidence-based treatments and can have a positive impact on this population," Edna Foa, PhD, professor of Clinical Psychology in the department of Psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, who developed prolonged exposure therapy, said in a statement.

The findings are published in the journal JAMA.

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