Effectiveness of a school-based, lay counselor-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy for Chinese children with posttraumatic stress symptoms: a randomized controlled trial

Elsevier, The Lancet Regional Health - Western Pacific, Volume 33, 2023
Jina Li, Jia Li, Weijun Zhang, Gengchao Wang, Zhiyong Qu

Improving children's access to mental health services need more innovative solutions, especially in low- and middle-income countries. School-based psychosocial interventions delivered by lay counselors may be an efficient way to improve children's access to mental health services. But few studies were conducted to examine the effectiveness of these interventions. Therefore, this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) in a group format delivered by lay counselors to children with trauma-related symptoms in China.

A total of 234 children (aged 9–12 years) with full or subthreshold posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were randomly assigned to group-based TF-CBT or treatment as usual (TAU). In the intervention group, 118 children received 10–12 sessions of group-based TF-CBT delivered by lay counselors for 9 consecutive weeks. In the TAU group, 116 children received the usual school services provided by psychology teachers. The primary outcome was the reduction in PTSD severity, which was assessed with the UCLA PTSD reaction index for DSM-5 (PTSD-RI-5). The secondary outcomes included the reduction in PTSD severity and the remission of PTSD, both of which were measured with the PTSD checklist-5 (PCL-5). Secondary outcomes also included the reduction in depression severity and the reduction in generalized anxiety severity. Blinded assessments were collected at baseline, posttreatment (primary endpoint), and 3-month follow-up. This trial is registered with Chinese Clinical Trial Registry, ChiCTR1900027131.

At posttreatment, the intervention group scored significantly lower than the TAU group on PTSD-RI-5 PTSD (30.98 vs. 39.22; adjusted mean difference [AMD], −7.35; 95% CI, −11.66 to −3.04), PCL-5 PTSD (28.78 vs. 38.04; AMD, −8.49; 95% CI, −13.23 to −3.75), depression (5.52 vs. 7.96; AMD, −1.63; 95% CI, −2.50 to −0.76), and generalized anxiety (7.23 vs. 8.64; AMD, −1.21; 95% CI, −2.20 to −0.23). The remission of PCL-5 PTSD was also significantly higher in the intervention group (42.86% vs. 13.54%, χ2 = 13.10, P < 0.001). These two groups showed a similar level of symptoms at the 3-month follow-up.

The group-based TF-CBT can significantly alleviate PTSD, depression, and generalized anxiety right after treatment in Chinese children who suffer from different types of trauma. But the long-term effects of this intervention need to be further tested. This intervention can be delivered by trained lay counselors in low- and middle-income countries.