Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) has been shown to efficiently treat children and youth exposed to traumatizing events. However, few studies have looked into mechanisms that may distinguish this treatment from other treatments. The objective of this study was to investigate whether the parents’ emotional reactions and depressive symptoms change over the course of therapy in the treatment conditions of TF-CBT and Therapy as Usual (TAU), and whether changes in the reactions mediate the difference between the treatment conditions on child post-traumatic stress (PTS) symptoms and child depressive symptoms.
A sample of 135 caregivers of 135 traumatized children and youth (M age = 14.8, SD = 2.2, 80% girls) was randomly assigned to receive either TF-CBT or TAU. The parents’ emotional reactions were measured using the Parental Emotional Reaction Questionnaire (PERQ), and their depressive symptoms were measured using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D). The children’s outcomes were post-traumatic stress (PTS) reactions and depression, as measured by the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale for Children and Adolescents (CAPS-CA) and Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (MFQ), respectively.
The parents’ emotional reactions and depressive symptoms decreased significantly from pre- to post-therapy, but no significant differences between the two treatment conditions were found. The changes in reactions did not significantly mediate the treatment difference between TF-CBT and TAU on child PTS symptoms. However a mediating effect was found on child depressive symptoms.
The results showed that although the parents experienced reductions in emotional reactions and depressive symptoms when their child received therapy, this was only significantly related to the difference in outcome between TF-CBT and TAU on child depressive symptoms. Possible explanations for these results are discussed along with the implications for clinicians and suggestions for future research.
Parents; Emotional reactions; Trauma treatment; Children and adolescents