Treating PTSD Helps Kids Deal With Loss

Camp-based therapy proved more beneficial than individual grief counseling, study finds

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MONDAY, April 21, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Children who experience the unexpected death of a parent after a long illness can suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a finding that has major implications for helping children deal with grief, say University of Georgia (UGA) researchers.

"Often children who have lost a parent are given grief therapy, and we've found that grief therapy doesn't help if you don't take care of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms first," study author Rene Searles McClatchey, an adjunct professor in the UGA School of Social Work, said in a prepared statement.

In a study of 100 children, the researchers investigated the effectiveness of a weekend camp that blends traditional activities such as hiking and canoeing with therapy for grief and PTSD. McClatchey is founder and director of the Camp Magik, a nonprofit organization.

Along with group sessions at the camp, the children have around-the-clock access to counselors. Attending this kind of camp with other children who have experienced a loss offers benefits that can't be provided by individual therapy, the researchers noted. The children can see that others are having similar thoughts and feelings.

The researchers found that:

  • The likelihood of continuing to experience severe PTSD was 4.5 times greater for children who didn't attend the camp compared to those who did.
  • Children who didn't attend the camp were 3.6 times more likely to experience severe grief than children who went to the camp.

The study also identified a link between PTSD and grief. Previous research conducted by McClatchey found that children who received grief counseling at the camp without PTSD treatment didn't improve or even fared worse after attending the camp.

"Delving into their grief without addressing their PTSD got them thinking about their loss, but we didn't teach them the coping mechanisms to deal with the PTSD symptoms that were stirred up," McClatchey said.

The research was expected to be published in the May issue of Research on Social Work Practice.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has advice on how children deal with death.

SOURCE: University of Georgia, news release, April 2008

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