Skip to main content

Counseling Program Reduces Teen Girls’ PTSD Symptoms

June 19, 2023
Youth Guidance’s Working on Womanhood discussion session
Youth Guidance’s Working on Womanhood is a school-based, trauma-informed group counseling program.

School-based group counseling programs can significantly reduce post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression among Black and Latina girls, according to new research co-authored by Northwestern University economist Jonathan Guryan.

The study, published in Science Advances, evaluated the Working on Womanhood (“WOW”) program, which was developed by and for Black and Latina women and girls through the non-profit organization Youth Guidance.

Guryan, co-faculty director of the University of Chicago Education Lab, and his coauthors found that the Working on Womenhood approach significantly reduced PTSD symptoms by 22 percent among adolescent girls in Chicago neighborhood schools; it also decreased feelings of anxiety and depression.

The paper is especially notable because it’s the first large-scale randomized controlled trial of a school-based trauma mitigation program for young women – and it comes at a time when girls in the US report record levels of sadness, suicidal thoughts, and violence. Trauma-related mental health research has traditionally focused on treatments for young men, especially related to gun violence prevention, even as the consequences of trauma are disproportionately borne by girls.

In 2009, Guryan and the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab conducted a similar evaluation of Youth Guidance’s Becoming a Man (“BAM”) program, a school-based counseling program for high-school boys. They found BAM increased participants’ on-time high school graduation rates by 19 percent and cut violent crime arrests in half during the program year.

On the strength of these findings, the program expanded nationwide and is now enrolling nearly 10,000 students across eight cities. In 2014, President Barack Obama joined a BAM meeting which informed the launch of his My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which served to support similar programs nationwide.

Guryan, the Lawyer Taylor Professor of Education and Social Policy, is a faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research and a co-founder and co-director of the Education Lab in the U of Chicago's Urban Labs. Much of his research falls into two main categories: understanding the sources and consequences of racial inequality and the economics of education.

In addition to Guryan, the paper was coauthored by Monica Bhatt, senior research director of the University of Chicago Education Lab; and Harold Pollack, Helen Ross Professor at the University of Chicago. Other coauthors include Phoebe Lin, a doctoral student in the Human Development and Social Policy program; and Juan Castrejon, Molly Clark, Lucia Delgado-Sanchez, Max Lubell, Cristobal Pinto Poehls, Ben Shaver, and Makenzi Sumners of the University of Chicago.

Related Resources:

Media Coverage: