If a single traumatic experience can change a person’s life for years to come, what must an average day be like for someone who faces traumatic events on a routine basis?
For people affected by war or natural disaster, where entire populations from infants to the elderly have been exposed to so much suffering, what can we possibly put in place to help them cope?
Researchers wanted to see whether the Teaching Recovery Techniques (TRT) program could be one effective resource for this population.
TRT is a skills-based cognitive behavioral therapy program that has significantly reduced symptoms of PTSD in earthquake survivors from Greece and Iran.
Ian G. Barron, an educational psychologist, and his colleagues at the University of Dundee, Scotland trained school counselors in Palestine in TRT.
Although the average age of the student participants was only 11, the majority of them had experienced close shelling, seeing a dead body, having a family member injured, or seeing someone be sexually assaulted, tortured, or killed.
A month before the program began, a questionnaire was administered to screen students for PTSD. The ten students in each class with the highest ranking on the PTSD scales were chosen to give self-report measures. The various classes were randomly assigned to either the intervention group or the wait-list group.
The school counselors administered the program during social education classes over a period of five weeks. There were a total of 90 Palestinian students in the intervention group and 50 in the wait-list group.
Two weeks prior to and two weeks after the program, self-report measures were administered to the selected students to assess PTSD, depression, traumatic grief, and impact on school performance.
The results showed a positive change for the intervention group.
The students who participated in the TRT program showed significant reduction in PTSD, depression, traumatic grief, negative school impact and mental health difficulties.
In the intervention group, the number of students who met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD decreased from 53 to 28. No significant differences were seen in the wait-list group.
It is also important to note, however, that because this study used a waitlist-controlled design, we want to be cautious in viewing the intervention as the sole cause of these results. The study is also limited because the classes were randomly assigned as a whole to each group rather than the students being randomly assigned.
And unfortunately, the researchers were not able to do a follow up or a longitudinal evaluation to assess if the gains were maintained over time.
Yet, these cautions aside, this work does look promising.
Within the context of ongoing violence, students will likely need longer-running programs to continue reducing traumatic symptoms.
If you would like to read more about this study, it can be found in Volume 18, Issue 4 of the Journal of Loss and Trauma.
To learn more about the latest trauma interventions and how to apply them in your work, check out our Rethinking Trauma Series.
Have you ever worked with patients who were still continuously experiencing traumatic events? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.