Prolonged Exposure Therapy for Adolescents with History of Trauma

ATLANTA – The Skyland Trail residential adolescent mental health treatment program offers an additional layer of support for adolescents with a primary mood or anxiety disorder and a history of trauma. Trained therapists offer individual prolonged exposure therapy (PE) for teens who meet clinical criteria.

Prolonged exposure therapy may be particularly helpful for clients who have trauma-related symptoms that prevent them from fully engaging in foundational CBT or DBT therapeutic work. PE may be most appropriate for patients with a history of trauma experiencing:

  • distressing memories, nightmares, or flashbacks
  • avoidance
  • negative thoughts about self, exaggerated blame of self or others,
  • irritability or angry outbursts
  • self-destructive behaviors
  • overly watchful or suspicious behaviors
  • problems with concentration or sleep

PE involves a series of 8 to 12 individual 90-minute sessions. Sessions with the therapist involve talking about the memory, recording the memory, listening to the recording, journaling, and other techniques.

The goal of each session is to reduce the power of the memory of the traumatic event over time. With less potency, the memory becomes less disruptive, and the patient is better able to tolerate discomfort. The client is then able to engage more fully in treatment to address other psychiatric symptoms and improve coping and interpersonal skills.

Residential treatment is an ideal environment to deliver prolonged exposure therapy. As clients work through the gradual exposures, they receive support from a multidisciplinary team of experts 24/7. In early 2023, the Skyland Trail adolescent clinical team received training in prolonged exposure therapy through the Prolonged Exposure Consultant Training Program at Emory University School of Medicine and is working toward certification in PE.

The Skyland Trail residential adolescent treatment program treats teens age 14 to 17 with a primary mood or anxiety disorder. Structured weekly schedules are anchored by core CBT skills or DBT skills groups, depending on a client’s diagnoses and symptoms. Additional therapeutic activities throughout the week include individual sessions with the psychiatrist, one-on-one therapy, ecological systems theory groups, and family therapy. Clients also participate in at least three hours of academic support each weekday year-long. Other therapeutic activities include art, music, fitness, and horticultural activities as well as recreational therapy and wellness education from a physician and dietician.