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FirstHealth therapists earn certification in childhood trauma therapy

| Date Posted: 1/13/2011

Liz Harry

Liz Harry

Liz Watson
Liz Watson

PINEHURST – Two FirstHealth of the Carolinas therapists who work with children and adolescents have been specially trained in a standardized, evidence-based therapy program designed to treat children who have experienced trauma.

Liz Watson is a family psychiatric nurse practitioner and Liz Harry is a licensed clinical social worker with FirstHealth Behavioral Health Services. Both were certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TFCBT) after a year of training.

“It’s intensive,” says Watson. “It’s the best training I’ve had since I’ve been out of school.”

Training comes from the North Carolina Child Treatment Program (NC CTP) that is headed by Dr. Dana M. Hagele, of the Department of Social Medicine and the Department of Pediatrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Dr. Lisa Amaya-Jackson, of Psychiatry and Behavioral Services/Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at Duke University. The training program includes seven full-day classes, 14 one-hour group phone conference calls with NC CTP faculty and regularly scheduled faculty-supervised calls to discuss individual cases.

TFCBT is based on 14 evidence-based modules (units) that focus on such areas as coping skills, healthy sexuality and safety. Each is covered with either the young patient, his/her caregiver or jointly to address the disturbed thoughts caused by the trauma-producing event and how to correct them.

“It takes all that messed-up thinking that perpetuates the trauma and corrects it,” Harry says. “It gives as healthy of a review of the trauma as you can have.”

During training, clinicians are required to focus on a child who has been sexually traumatized but, according to Harry, the therapy program can be applied to any trauma and adapted for developmental level. A parent or other immediate caregiver (sometimes a foster parent or DSS representative) must be involved in the therapy and, in the best case, believes the child’s story of abuse and brings him/her in for treatment.

“The best predictor of how a child will do is whether he or she is believed, and then the caregiver responds appropriately by protecting the child and getting him or her help,” Watson says.

Occasionally, adult caregivers will find themselves dealing with their own unresolved issues. “Sometimes we have parents who have abuse issues they have never dealt with themselves,” Harry says.

In addition to addressing the actual abuse issue, TFCBT clinicians also work with their young patients on coping skills designed to help them identify and avoid future potentially abusive situations.

“We teach them skills so they can identify what doesn’t feel right to them and speak up,” Watson says. “We want them to return to that ‘uh-oh’ feeling and act on it. Part of the therapy program is talking about what happened and changing unhelpful thoughts to helpful thoughts.”

A mental health therapist with FirstHealth Behavioral Services since 2008, Harry has a B.A. in social work from Mercer University in Macon, Ga.; a B.A. in sociology from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla.; and a master’s degree in social work from Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla. In addition to her TFCBT certification, she is trained in critical stress management and provides individual, family and marriage/couples therapy to adults, adolescents and children.

Watson has been with FirstHealth Behavioral Services since 1996. She has a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Duke University’s School of Nursing and an M.S. degree in nursing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2006, she earned a post-master’s certificate as a Family Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, also from UNC-Chapel Hill. In her current role, she provides psychotherapy and medication management to children, adolescents, adults and families in outpatient settings.

According to the National Center for PTSD, American child protection service programs get around 3 million reports of traumatic events affecting some 5.5 million children each year. Of the reported cases, there is proof of abuse in about 30 percent with 65 percent of that number involving neglect, 18 percent involving physical abuse, 10 percent sexual abuse and 7 percent mental abuse.  

Between 3 million to 10 million children witness family violence each year, and around 40 to 60 percent of those cases involve child physical abuse.

It is believed that two-thirds of child abuse cases go unreported.

For more information on FirstHealth Behavioral Health Services or Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, call (800) 213-3284.

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