Context No randomized controlled studies have been conducted to date on the
effectiveness of psychological interventions for children with symptoms of
posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that has resulted from personally witnessing
or being personally exposed to violence.
Objective To evaluate the effectiveness of a collaboratively designed school-based
intervention for reducing children's symptoms of PTSD and depression that
has resulted from exposure to violence.
Design A randomized controlled trial conducted during the 2001-2002 academic
Setting and Participants Sixth-grade students at 2 large middle schools in Los Angeles who reported
exposure to violence and had clinical levels of symptoms of PTSD.
Intervention Students were randomly assigned to a 10-session standardized cognitive-behavioral
therapy (the Cognitive-Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools) early
intervention group (n = 61) or to a wait-list delayed intervention comparison
group (n = 65) conducted by trained school mental health clinicians.
Main Outcome Measures Students were assessed before the intervention and 3 months after the
intervention on measures assessing child-reported symptoms of PTSD (Child
PTSD Symptom Scale; range, 0-51 points) and depression (Child Depression Inventory;
range, 0-52 points), parent-reported psychosocial dysfunction (Pediatric Symptom
Checklist; range, 0-70 points), and teacher-reported classroom problems using
the Teacher-Child Rating Scale (acting out, shyness/anxiousness, and learning
problems; range of subscales, 6-30 points).
Results Compared with the wait-list delayed intervention group (no intervention),
after 3 months of intervention students who were randomly assigned to the
early intervention group had significantly lower scores on symptoms of PTSD
(8.9 vs 15.5, adjusted mean difference, − 7.0; 95% confidence interval
[CI], − 10.8 to − 3.2), depression (9.4 vs 12.7, adjusted mean
difference, − 3.4; 95% CI, − 6.5 to − 0.4), and psychosocial
dysfunction (12.5 vs 16.5, adjusted mean difference, − 6.4; 95% CI,
–10.4 to –2.3). Adjusted mean differences between the 2 groups
at 3 months did not show significant differences for teacher-reported classroom
problems in acting out (−1.0; 95% CI, –2.5 to 0.5), shyness/anxiousness
(0.1; 95% CI, –1.5 to 1.7), and learning (−1.1, 95% CI, –2.9
to 0.8). At 6 months, after both groups had received the intervention, the
differences between the 2 groups were not significantly different for symptoms
of PTSD and depression; showed similar ratings for psychosocial function;
and teachers did not report significant differences in classroom behaviors.
Conclusion A standardized 10-session cognitive-behavioral group intervention can
significantly decrease symptoms of PTSD and depression in students who are
exposed to violence and can be effectively delivered on school campuses by
trained school-based mental health clinicians.