Children and adolescents who have experienced trauma in their lives can benefit from Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TF-CBT), a short-term phase-and components-based treatment.

TF-CBT is suitable for children and adolescents ages 3 to 18 with emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, fear, or even posttraumatic stress disorder.

The research-based treatment is effective in helping children and their parents or caregivers overcome trauma-related issues.

Research Shows TF-CBT Helps Child Abuse Victims

The National Child Trauma Stress Network (NCTSN) found that TF-CBT has the strongest evidence of any treatment model for traumatized children.
Multiple investigations comparing TF-CBT to other forms and models of therapy (including child-centered therapy and nondirective play therapy) found that TF-CBT provided more benefits to children and parents.
Follow-up sessions two years following the end of therapy showed that the benefits of treatment were sustained over time.

How TF-CBT Can Benefit Child Abuse Victims

Research by the Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy National Therapist Certification Program shows that children and adolescents who go through TF-CBT experience a multitude of benefits and improvements such as decreases in anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and relationship difficulties.

Other benefits can be experienced by non-offending parents. Research has demonstrated that parents benefit from reduced emotional distress and depressive symptoms, which can lead to improvements in their relationships with their children.

The History Behind TF-CBT

TF-CBT was developed out of a desire to help victims of child abuse and trauma. Pioneered by psychiatrist Judith Cohen, and psychologists Anthony Mannarino and Esther Deblinger, TF-CBT took traditional cognitive-behavioral methods and modified them to include family therapy with a trauma-sensitive approach.

After the new treatment model went through a successful initial research phase, further trials demonstrated the continued effectiveness of the TF-CBT model. Since the early 1990s, TF-CBT has been a proven method of treating children and adolescents who have experienced child abuse or traumatic stress.


How It Works

TF-CBT treatment can range from 12 to 16 weekly sessions but can be extended to 25 weeks if necessary. Sessions are an hour long and help provide education and skills in a safe environment.

The child and parent see the therapist separately for 30 minutes each, per session. There are instances later in the treatment where parents and children can have a joint session.
The primary components of TF-CBT are summarized by the acronym “PRACTICE”:

P – Psychoeducation and Parenting Skills

This component focuses on opening a narrative wherein child abuse and the behavioral reactions to sexual abuse are discussed. Parents are prepared with skills training in positive parenting, child behavior management strategies, and effective communication.

R – Relaxation Techniques

In this component, parents and children are taught relaxation methods such as focused breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visual imagery.

A – Affective Expression and Regulation

It’s essential that emotional reactions are kept in check, and this component helps children and parents improve their ability to identify and express emotions.

C – Cognitive Coping and Processing

This step helps children and parents explore the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It aims to correct inaccurate connections to everyday events.

T – Trauma Narration and Processing

To help process inaccurate or unhelpful thoughts about abuse, gradual exposure exercises are conducted. The exercises can include verbal, written, and/or other creative ways of recounting abusive events.

I – In Vivo Exposure

In this component, children are gradually exposed to reminders of their trauma to help them control their emotional reactions.

C – Conjoint Parent/Child Sessions

At this point, children and parents have joint sessions with the therapist to work on communication and practice therapeutic discussion regarding the abuse. This is an opportunity for the child to share his/her trauma narration with the parent(s).

E – Enhancing Personal Safety and Future Growth

The final component revolves around education and training on personal safety skills, interpersonal relationships, and healthy sexuality. Children are encouraged to use their newly attained skills to manage stressors and trauma reminders in the future.

Every Child Deserves the Opportunity to Heal

TF-CBT is one of many ways that child abuse victims can heal. The Children’s Advocacy Center of Hidalgo and Starr Counties believes that children deserve the opportunity to heal and overcome their trauma.

Since 2001, we’ve been committed to providing a safe environment for children who are victims of child abuse. Our goal is to educate our community to help them identify the signs of abuse and how to recognize them.

Your donation can help support our work and make a difference in a victim’s life. For more direct involvement, we encourage you to sign up to volunteer today!