Nontraditional Trauma Therapies for Youth: A Review and Synthesis

A new white paper from Upbring, a Texas-based social services provider, explores whether four nontraditional therapies can be effective in treating trauma experienced by children.

According to the authors, eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), animal-assisted therapies (AAT), creative-arts therapies (CAT), and movement-focused therapies (MFT) have often been utilized by clinicians to help children deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and other trauma-related issues.

Despite their increasing use, though, these therapies have not often been often tested in clinical trials, and clinicians often lack an awareness of what scientific evidence supports these therapies. Additionally, professionals may not know which forms of the interventions are most effective and which populations may be best suited for specific therapies.

In “Nontraditional Trauma Therapies for Youth: A Review and Synthesis,” the authors gather available empirical evidence about the four therapies that are commonly used for children in the child-welfare system.

According to the review, EMDR therapy shows positive outcomes for helping adults and children deal with trauma-related conditions such as PTSD and depression. However, bilateral stimulation, a controversial form of EMDR therapy that involves having the client perform a sensory task involving both sides of the brain while recalling a traumatic event, was found to be ineffective and unnecessary for success of therapeutic interventions.

Therapeutic approaches that involve art (CAT) or specially trained animals (AAT) both lack a significant base of empirical evidence as well as a clearly defined treatment rationale or manual that provides a standardized way to assess the therapy. CAT and AAT are also often used in conjunction with other treatment processes, making it difficult to assess the true value of the programs. The authors suggest that other reasons–such as the benefit of social interactions as part of a group–could explain some of the benefits of the programs tested.

MFT-type interventions were shown to display the least empirical support. Recent studies gathered as part of the review process found minimal benefits from the program. Like CAT and AAT, the authors recommend that MFT be considered an experimental approach at this time.

Click here to read the report.

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