There are many refugees living in the United States. Refugees are people who have fled their country of origin because they were persecuted or due to humanitarian reasons. The number of refugee children living in America is unknown, but many of these individuals suffer with significant posttraumatic stress (PTSD) due to exposure to violent acts, death or loss of family members, loss of home, unfamiliar surroundings, and other events. Because refugees have limited resources, both socially and financially, the majority of traumatized refugee children do not receive the mental health care they need. These children can struggle for decades with the stress that accompanies the traumas they experienced, and the added strain of having to assimilate to a new culture can severely impact their social, cognitive, and academic development and hinder their ability to forge healthy relationships. The most commonly used approach for treating children with PTSD is trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), and it has been shown to be highly effective in diminishing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Another form of treatment that is often used for traumatized children is child-centered play therapy (CCPT). In a recent study, April A. Schottelkorb of the Department of Education at Boise State University compared the effectiveness of CCPT to TF-CBT in a sample of 31 refugee children with PTSD. Both approaches encourage the involvement of a parent during treatment, but Schottelkorb and her colleagues were only able to achieve minimal parental involvement throughout their study. However, despite this fact, the results showed the CCPT was as effective as TF-CBT in helping the refugee children cope with their PTSD. Similar to findings demonstrated with sexually abused children, the CCPT method helped significantly reduce the symptoms of stress, fear, and anxiety in the children. Schottelkorb believes these results help clinicians and educators who work directly with traumatized refugees, become aware of the multiple options available for treating these fragile children. She added, “We encourage elementary school counselors, school-based mental health practitioners, and community practitioners who work with refugees to consider utilizing CCPT with their refugee clients.”
Schottelkorb, A. A., Doumas, D. M., & Garcia, R. (2012). Treatment for childhood refugee trauma: A randomized, controlled trial. International Journal of Play Therapy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027430
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