Background: Single traumatising events are associated with an elevated rate of psychological disorders in children and adolescents. To date, it remains unclear whether early psychological interventions can reduce longer term psychological maladjustment.
Objective: To systematically review the literature to determine the characteristics and efficacy of early psychological interventions in children and adolescents after a single, potentially-traumatising event.
Design: Systematic searches were conducted of all relevant bibliographic databases. Studies on early psychological interventions were included if the first session was conducted within 1 month of the event. Two independent observers assessed each study for eligibility, using pre-determined inclusion and exclusion criteria, and rated the study's methodological quality. A meta-analysis was conducted on the group effects between individuals allocated to intervention versus control groups. Hence, effect sizes (ES) and confidence intervals were computed as well as heterogeneity and analogue-to-the ANOVA analyses.
Results: Seven studies (including four randomised controlled trials) met the inclusion criteria. Depending on the specific outcome variable (e.g., dissociation, anxiety and arousal), small to large beneficial ES were noted. Although the meta-analysis revealed unexplained heterogeneity between the ES of the included studies, and although studies varied greatly with regards to their methodological quality and the interventions tested, findings suggest that early interventions should involve psycho-education, provide individual coping-skills and probably involve some kind of trauma exposure. Also, a stepped procedure that includes an initial risk screen and the provision of multiple sessions to those children at risk may be a promising strategy.
Conclusions: To date, research on the effectiveness of early interventions in children after a potentially traumatising event remains scarce. However, our review suggests that early interventions may be helpful.
Keywords: PTSD; crisis intervention; critical incident stress debriefing; post-traumatic stress; systematic review.