Short Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Program Found Effective in Anxiety Disorders Among Children

Article

Findings suggest that the children benefitted from the CBT-based program when delivered in a shorter format.

A preventive intervention based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for children was found to be effective at reducing anxiety among school-aged children in Japan, according to new research.

Anxiety disorders are highly prevalent among children and can negatively affect their self-esteem, leading to under-achievement in school. Additionally, anxiety can increase the likelihood of avoiding socialization, negative interactions with peers, and missing class. If left untreated, anxiety can lead to severe psychological disorders over time.

“When CBT-based anxiety prevention programs prevail and help children learn self-control over their anxious feelings, their mental health-related problems will decrease, allowing them to grow to their full potential,” said researcher Yuko Urao in a press release.

To address these concerns, a preventive CBT intervention called Journey of the Brave was developed and introduced in Japanese schools in 2014. Each session of the program took 45 minutes to complete over a span of 10 weeks, and although it was effective, experts noted that this resulted in significant time missed from school to attend the sessions.

More recently, a team of researchers developed a streamlined, shorter version of the program, which was published in October in BMC Psychiatry.

“The effectiveness of the CBT-based anxiety prevention program Journey of the Brave, aimed at Japanese higher-grade elementary school children, has been confirmed by previous studies,” Urao said in the press release. “But to implement and spread it on a large scale was problematic due to difficulties in securing extensive class time of 10 45-minute-long sessions.”

In the new, streamlined program, the research team spent 14 weeks administering sessions that last only 20 minutes. They conducted them during the homeroom activity time in the morning rather than afterschool hours, and included children aged 10 and 11 years in a Japanese school. This age group was chosen because children of these ages often take on new responsibilities as school or class leaders, according to the study.

The children were divided into control and intervention groups, with the former not attending any CBT-based sessions. The investigators assessed the children at the pre- and post-intervention stages, as well as during a 2-month follow-up period. Their anxiety-based symptoms were measured using the Spence Children’s Anxiety Scale (SCAS) and behavioral problems were measured using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ).

According to the study, there was a significant reduction in the SCAS scores during the 2-month follow-up period, in addition to a reduction in the SDQ scores. These findings suggest that the children benefitted from the CBT-based program when delivered in a shorter format.

“Since this version of the program is shorter, a greater number of schools will be able to implement it,” Urao said in the press release. “In addition, the greater number of schools participate, the more teachers will be able to focus on children’s anxiety. Moreover, it will lead to an improved school environment where children will retain their peace of mind.”

REFERENCE

Short CBT program is also effective at reducing anxiety among school children. News release. EurekAlert; December 9, 2022. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/973799

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