Background: Following horrific or life-threatening events approximately 10 to 15% of young children develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The symptoms of this disorder are distressing - nightmares, flashbacks, anger outbursts and disturbed play. These symptoms cause major disruption to a child's functioning and, if left untreated, can persist for many years. As yet, there are no established empirically-validated treatments for PTSD in young children. Trauma-focused cognitive behaviour therapy (TF-CBT) is a psychological intervention that is effective in treating the disorder in older children (8 to 12 years), adolescents and adults. This study examines TF-CBT adapted for children aged between 3 and 8 years. Methods/Design: This protocol describes a two-arm exploratory randomised controlled trial comparing TF-CBT to treatment as usual (TAU) in children aged 3 to 8 years with a principal diagnosis of PTSD following a single-event discrete trauma. Using a half-crossover design, 44 participants will be randomly allocated to receive the intervention or to receive TAU. Those allocated to TAU will be offered TF-CBT at the end of the 'treatment' period (approximately 12 weeks) if still indicated. The primary outcome is PTSD diagnosis according to DSM-5 criteria for children 6 years and younger at post-treatment. Secondary outcomes include effects on co-morbid diagnoses and changes in emotion and trauma symptoms at each of the follow-up points (post-treatment, 3-months, 12-months). Additionally, broader efficacy will be considered with regard to treatment feasibility, acceptability and service utilisation. The key targets of the intervention are trauma memory, the interpretation of the meaning of the event, and the management of symptoms. Discussion: This is the first European trial to examine the efficacy of TF-CBT in alleviating PTSD in very young children. As well as providing much-needed data on the utility of the intervention, this exploratory trial will also allow us to gather important information about the feasibility of delivering the treatment in UK National Health Service (NHS) settings, and its acceptability to the children and their families. This study will highlight aspects of the intervention that need improvement or modification in preparation for a full-scale evaluation in a larger sample. Trial registration: ISRCTN35018680, registered on 18 November 2013.
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- Post traumatic stress disorder
- Trauma-focused cognitive behaviour therapy