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Best Treatment for Childhood Trauma Remains Elusive

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While many children and teens experience trauma, it's unclear what are the best ways to help them move on from the events, a new review of the research finds.

As a result, the researchers said, their work is a "call to action" to better understand how to help children heal and prevent the lingering effects of trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

"The body of evidence provides little insight into how interventions to treat children exposed to trauma might influence healthy, long-term development," they write.

Up to two-thirds of children experience some form of trauma—from a car accident to a natural disaster to war—the researchers said. And traumatic experiences, especially if they have led to post-traumatic stress disorder, can carry into teenage and adult life. That can result in depression, the abuse of drugs or alcohol, behavior disorders, or suicide.

The reviewers, whose work was published online this week in the journal Pediatrics, did find that interventions at school can be more effective than others. And talk therapy is better than no therapy, they say. On the other hand, drug-based therapies were not found to be effective, the researchers found. And guidance on treating PTSD during childhood and adolescence don't seem to be evidence-based, they conclude.

The researchers looked at about two dozen studies to draw their conclusions.

Part of the difficulty in pinpointing good treatment is that many things affect how a child or teenager will fare emotionally after a traumatic event, Dr. Denise Dowd, an emergency physician and research director at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo., told the Associated Press.

One major factor is how a child's parents handle the aftermath, said Dowd, who was not among the researchers who did the study.

"If the parent is freaking out" and has difficulty controlling emotions, "it's going to be very difficult for the kid," Dowd said. Traumatized kids need to feel as if they are in a safe, stable environment.

Proper treatment can stave off problems with physical health, including sleep and eating disorders, obesity, headaches, and even asthma, researchers said.

It can cut the likelihood that kids will drop out of school and improve their chances of developing healthy social and interpersonal skills. Mental health and access to services and care have been in the spotlight lately, ever since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., although it is still unknown whether the shooter had an established mental health problem.

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