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Game-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Child Sexual Abuse

Game-Based Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a promising individual or group intervention for children and teens who have been sexually abused. Building on the principles of Trauma-Focused CBT, this modality also includes some elements of play therapy. Children use play as a way to express and work through feelings, and game-based activities can be a lively and engaging way to teach the skills that are critical for trauma recovery. This type of treatment is also consistent with new research on how the brain reacts to and recovers from trauma.

Researchers Justin Misurell, Craig Springer, Lina Costa, Lindsay Liotta, and Amy Kranzler (2014) conducted a preliminary outcome study to explore the effectiveness of individual Game-Based CBT with 78 children who had experienced sexual abuse. The children were between the ages of 4 and 17 years, with a median age of 10. The results supported improvement in trauma-specific symptoms. Particularly encouraging findings were that children exhibited less sexually inappropriate behaviors after treatment, and that they demonstrated improved personal safety knowledge and skills. The level of engagement and satisfaction with treatment was high for both children and caregivers.

Previous research has shown that group treatment with Game-Based CBT may have promising effects (Springer & Misurell, 2010). Both the individual and group treatments provide therapists with a choice of modules that include structured therapeutic games based on developmental level, language ability, and client interest. The individual model includes portions of the sessions with the caregiver alone, the child alone, and the caregiver and child together. The caregiver and child learn to plan the therapeutic games together, and practice them for homework.



  • Misurell, J., & Springer, C. (2014). Game-based cognitive-behavioral therapy individual model (GB-CBT-IM) for child sexual abuse: A preliminary outcome study.
  • Psychological Trauma: Theory, Practice, and Policy, 6(3), 250-258.
  • Springer, C., & Misurell, J.R. (2010). Game-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (GB-CBT): An innovative group treatment program for children who have been sexually abused. Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma, 3, 163-180. doi:10.1080/19361521.2010.491506

Additional Resources

Reviewed: March 21st, 2017