Philadelphia successfully treats youth PTSD with proven therapy

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It’s tough to make proven treatments a standard part of healthcare. In fact, only about 31% of attempts to add them to health care systems work out.

But a ten-year study in Philadelphia has bucked the trend. A group of doctors, clinic managers, policy experts, and researchers have managed to effectively use a specific kind of talk therapy to help young people deal with severe stress caused by traumatic events, also known as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Why Philadelphia Needed This Study

Many young people in Philadelphia live in tough conditions. They’re more likely to be poor, and many have health coverage through Medicaid, the government’s health insurance program for low-income people.

Living in these conditions, they often face various kinds of violence, from abuse at home to dangers in their neighborhood.

This makes them more likely to develop PTSD and less likely to get over it compared to kids from wealthier backgrounds.

The researchers, originally from the University of Pennsylvania and now at other institutions, worked with Philadelphia’s health department since 2012.

They trained local therapists to use a specific kind of talk therapy that’s proven to help young people with PTSD. This therapy helped patients reduce their stress symptoms by an average of 30%.

But what makes this study stand out is how well the city has been able to keep using this therapy over a decade. “This is a success story,” said Rinad Beidas, one of the researchers.

She emphasized the importance of working closely with the community, clinicians, and the city to make sure the therapy would keep helping kids over the long term.

Lessons for Other Cities

Other cities could learn a lot from Philadelphia, especially because many young people across the U.S. also face high rates of trauma.

Every city is unique, but the basics of what made this program work could be tailored to fit other places too, like Chicago or New York.

A big part of Philadelphia’s success came from training therapists very well. The study’s authors say that really understanding the patients and their problems is crucial.

Briana Last, who led the work at Penn and is now at Stony Brook University, said, “Having a clinician who really understands what you’re going through and has the skills to support you can make the world of a difference.”

Philadelphia also had a unique way of paying for mental health services, which helped make the project a success. Since the study began in 2012, 478 therapists have been trained in the special talk therapy.

They’ve screened more than 23,000 young people for stress symptoms caused by traumatic events, and over 7,500 of them have received the therapy.

In a nutshell, this Philadelphia study shows that with the right training, funding, and community partnership, cities can successfully implement proven treatments and make a real difference in the lives of young people facing severe stress.

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The research findings can be found in Implementation Research and Practice.

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