Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)
What is TF-CBT?
TF-CBT is a conjoint child and parent psychotherapy approach for children and adolescents who are experiencing significant emotional and behavioral difficulties related to traumatic life events. It is a components-based treatment model that incorporates trauma-sensitive interventions with cognitive behavioral, family, and humanistic principles and techniques.
Children and parents learn new skills to help process thoughts and feelings related to traumatic life events; manage and resolve distressing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to traumatic life events; and enhance safety, growth, parenting skills, and family communication.
Who is TF-CBT for?
TF-CBT has proved successful with children and adolescents (ages 3 to 18) who have significant emotional problems (e.g., symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, fear, anxiety, or depression) related to traumatic life events.
This treatment can be used with children and adolescents who have experienced a single trauma or multiple traumas in their life.
Children or adolescents experiencing traumatic grief can also benefit from this treatment.
TF-CBT can be used with children and adolescents residing in many types of settings, including parental homes, foster care, kinship care, group homes, or residential programs.
How Long does TF-CBT Typically Last?
TF-CBT is best delivered by creative, resourceful therapists who have developed close therapeutic alliances with their clients.
This treatment is designed to be provided in a flexible and developmentally appropriate manner to address the unique needs of each child and family.
It has been evaluated with Caucasian and African American children, and it has been adapted for Latino and hearing-impaired/deaf populations. It is currently being adapted for Native American children and for children in many other countries (e.g., Zambia, Uganda, South Africa, Pakistan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Germany, and Cambodia).
Does TF-CBT Work?
TF-CBT is the most well-supported and effective treatment for children who have been abused and traumatized. Multiple clinical research studies consistently have found it to help children with PTSD and other trauma-related problems. It has been rated a Model Program and Best Practice for use with abused and traumatized children. TF-CBT currently is being used successfully in community service agencies across the country.
TF-CBT has proven to be effective in addressing post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, externalizing behaviors, sexualized behaviors, feelings of shame, and mistrust. The parental component increases the positive effects for children by reducing parents' own levels of depression and emotional distress about their child's abuse and improving parenting practices and support of their child.
TF-CBT was rated a "1-Well-supported, efficacious treatment", the highest level of empirical support in the U.S. Department of Justice sponsored report Child Physical and Sexual Abuse: Guidelines for Treatment (PDF). The California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare rated TF-CBT a "1-Well-supported, effective practice" its highest score for Scientific Rating and its highest score for Relevance to Child Welfare Rating. TF-CBT was selected as a "Best Practice" for cases of child abuse in the Kaufman Best Practices Task Force Final Report sponsored by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
Who Can Deliver TF-CBT?
This treatment can be used by a variety of mental health professionals, including clinical social workers, professional counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, or clinical counselors.
Where Can I Get More Information About TF-CBT & Child Trauma?
- California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare
- TF-CBT Fact Sheet from the NCTSN (PDF)
- Review of TF-CBT from the Child Welfare Information Gateway
- NREPP Definition of TF-CBT (PDF)
- CARES Institute
Cohen, J.A., Mannarino, A.P., & Deblinger, E. (2006). Treating Trauma and Traumatic Grief in Children and Adolescents. New York: The Guilford Press.