Effectiveness of a school-based group psychotherapy program for war-exposed adolescents: a randomized controlled trial

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2008 Sep;47(9):1048-62. doi: 10.1097/CHI.0b013e31817eecae.


Objective: To evaluate the comparative effectiveness of a classroom-based psychoeducation and skills intervention (tier 1) and a school-based trauma- and grief-focused group treatment (tier 2) of a three-tiered mental health program for adolescents exposed to severe war-related trauma, traumatic bereavement, and postwar adversity.

Method: A total of 127 war-exposed and predominantly ethnic Muslim secondary school students attending 10 schools in central Bosnia who reported severe symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or maladaptive grief and significant impairment in school or relationships were randomly assigned to one of two experimental conditions. These included either an active-treatment comparison condition (tier 1), consisting of a classroom-based psychoeducation and skills intervention alone (n = 61, 66% girls, mean age 16.0 years, SD 1.13) or a treatment condition composed of both the classroom-based intervention and a 17-session manual-based group therapy intervention (tier 2), trauma and grief component therapy for adolescents (n = 66, 63% girls, mean age 15.9 years, SD 1.11). Both interventions were implemented throughout the school year. Distressed students who were excluded from the study due to acute risk for harm (n = 9) were referred for community-based mental health services (tier 3).

Results: Program effectiveness was measured via reductions in symptoms of PTSD, depression, and maladaptive grief assessed at pretreatment, posttreatment, and 4-month follow-up. Analysis of mean-level treatment effects showed significant pre- to posttreatment and posttreatment to 4-month follow-up reductions in PTSD and depression symptoms in both the treatment and comparison conditions. Significant pre- to posttreatment reductions in maladaptive grief reactions were found only in the treatment condition. Analyzed at the individual case level, the percentages of students in the treatment condition who reported significant (p <.05) pre- to posttreatment reductions in PTSD symptoms (58% at posttreatment, 81% at 4-month follow-up) compare favorably to those reported in controlled treatment efficacy trials, whereas the percentages who reported significant reductions in depression symptoms (23% at posttreatment, 61% at follow-up) are comparable to, or higher than, those found in community treatment settings. Lower but substantial percentages of significant symptom reduction were found for PTSD (33% at posttreatment, 48% at follow-up) and depression symptoms (13% at posttreatment; 47% at follow-up) in students in the comparison condition. The odds of significant symptom reduction were higher for PTSD symptoms at both posttreatment and 4-month follow-up and for maladaptive grief at posttreatment (no follow-up was conducted on maladaptive grief). Rates of significantly worsened cases were generally rare in both the treatment and comparison conditions.

Conclusions: A three-tiered, integrative mental health program composed of schoolwide dissemination of psychoeducation and coping skills (tier 1), specialized trauma- and grief-focused intervention for severely traumatized and traumatically bereaved youths (tier 2), and referral of youths at acute risk for community-based mental health services (tier 3) constitutes an effective and efficient method for promoting adolescent recovery in postwar settings.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Bereavement
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Grief
  • Health Education / methods*
  • Humans
  • Islam / psychology
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Psychotherapy, Group / methods*
  • School Health Services*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy*
  • Warfare*