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New Research on Youth Trauma Treatment
In early October I had the opportunity to sit down with Ben Czyz, a licensed mental health therapist with Lutheran Family Services in Omaha. Czyz had reached out to The Kim Foundation to update us on an exciting new research project that Lutheran Family Services, Boys Town, Creighton, and the Attachment and Trauma Center of Nebraska will soon be embarking on.
The research will focus on how trauma affects the brain development in youth ages ten to eighteen years old. It will compare the effectiveness of two highly credited treatments, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), to see which is most effective when working with youth. It will also help them see if certain treatments work better with specific trauma types. For example, if a child has been physically abused, does one treatment work better than the other?
EMDR is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of troubling life experiences by using eye movement or other bilateral stimulation. It is widely presumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal, however, repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make such progress. EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma. During EMDR treatment, the clinician will ask the client to hold different aspects of the trauma in mind and to use his eyes to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across the patient’s field of vision. As this is happening, it is believed that there is a connection to the biological mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Internal associations arise and the patient can begin to process the memory and distressing feelings. Rather than re-experiencing the trauma in real time as many people with PTSD do, the patient will begin viewing the experience as something from the past. They will feel further removed from the experience and be able to move forward (1).
TF-CBT is a psychotherapy approach for children and adolescents who are experiencing significant emotional and behavioral difficulties related to traumatic life events. Through TF-CBT, 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(2).
The study is scheduled to begin in early winter and will include forty participants to be observed weekly throughout a twenty week period. Each participant will receive a neuro-imaging scan prior to beginning treatment. Based on those scans and their individual needs, they will all receive an individualized treatment plan.
“The pre-treatment scan will show the effects of trauma on specific parts of the brain. For instance, do parts of the brain decrease in size or become over or underactive due to the specific traumas they have been through?” said Czyz. “We will also be taking a look at what each specific trauma does to the brain. For example, how verbal abuse, physical abuse, and so on, affects specific parts of the brain.”
Once the youth receives the initial scan, they will be randomly assigned to one of the two treatment methods. Half of the group will receive EMDR while the other half will receive TF-CBT. At the end of their treatment, they will receive a second scan. The second neuro-imaging scan will allow researchers to compare the changes and developments in the brain make-up from the initial scan twenty weeks earlier.
“The goal of this research is to hopefully find out which treatment, EMDR or TF-CBT, seems to produce the most effective results with children that have been traumatized,” said Czyz. “As well as bring us closer to seeing a visual representation of how EMDR or TF-CBT heals the affected areas of the brain.”
Thank you Ben Czyz, MS, LIMHP for taking the time to educate us on this exciting new research.
Jill Hamilton, Senior Project Coordinator, The Kim Foundation
Jill Hamilton has been a Project Coordinator at The Kim Foundation since 2014. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and a Speech Communication Minor from The University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2009. Since working at the foundation, she has become an active member of the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition and The Metro Area Suicide Prevention Coalition, Nebraska LOSS Advisory Committee, The Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, is Chair of the Nebraska LOSS Teams Conference Planning Committee, and serves as the Outreach Coordinator for the Metro Area LOSS Team.