Cutting Edge Research on CBT Applications for Children - On Second Thought: from Iffy to Witty Thoughts
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Cutting Edge Research on CBT Applications for Children

Cutting Edge Research on CBT Applications for Children

Childhood mental health symptoms and illnesses can be terrifying for parents and families to face. When you notice your child is struggling with anxiety, ADHD, depression or struggling to engage in interpersonal relationships with their peers, it can be difficult to know the best methods to help them.  There is an information overload on the internet, and it can be difficult to identify the most effective and fastest way to help a child.

There is no “magic bullet” when it comes to illnesses of the mind, however there is a considerable amount of research into effective treatment modalities for pediatric symptoms. Evidence-based practices (EBP) are modes of treatment with preferred by clinicians based on expertise, strong empirical evidence of good outcomes, and client value in the treatment. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is an EBP that offers promising outcomes for children struggling with a variety of mental health symptoms and may be one of the most impactful first line treatments for pediatric psychiatric illnesses. A greater focus on mental health supports the development of more specific strategies that are designed specifically for children.  There is cutting edge research into the use of CBT to treat a variety of childhood illnesses.

Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD)

A study published in 2016 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of adding CBT as a treatment option for youth currently medicated for their persistent ADHD symptoms.  The study found strong evidence that the addition of CBT targeted therapy improved outcomes for children who had struggled to control symptoms with just medications. Implications for parents, educators, and clinicians supports the use of combination therapies including medications to help manage symptoms and CBT to support further skill development in symptom management.

Anxiety and Phobias

A 2013 pilot study examined the efficacy of a CBT program delivered via a computer for children struggling with a specific phobia, promoting that internet-based treatment options would allow access to treatment options for those with barriers to accessing more traditional treatment. This study published in the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Journal reports that using this computerized program showed positive evidence of reduced severity in symptoms.

Additionally, a meta-analytic review of research into the use of CBT for youth struggling with anxiety, published in 2021 in Frontiers on Psychology cites CBT as the “gold standard therapy” and aimed to understand through a review of research the efficacy of CBT on childhood anxiety. The researchers recommended that one area lacking in the field of CBT applications for childhood illnesses is the need for more personalized approaches for children struggling with symptoms of anxiety, targeting those symptoms in a standardized manner more efficiently.

Functional Abdominal Pain Disorders and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Perhaps one of the newest applications for the use of CBT in the pediatric population is the use of this mode of treatment to manage symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Functional Abdominal Pain Disorders (FAPD). Research suggests the bowel disorders are common in the pediatric population, with 6 to 14% of children and 22 to 35% of adolescents experiencing IBS.  The American College of Gastroenterology offered clinical guidance that CBT was an effective form of treatment for IBS. While the relationship is not completely understood, there is a mind-gut connection that supports the use of CBT to effectively treat symptoms of this debilitating disorder.

Research published in the 2022 European Journal of Pediatrics examined multiple treatment modalities for children experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms including therapies and pharmacological treatments. The findings supported that the use of CBT in treating these symptoms led to significant reduction in pain symptoms. Additionally, the study suggested that the use of online CBT programs can support improvement in symptoms, increase access to services, and is an effective alternative for those seeking additional support for these illnesses.

Advancements in the treatment of pediatric mental illnesses support improved outcomes for young people and the introduction of more computer-based interventions, specifically for CBT promote access for more individuals who may not seek traditional office based therapeutic services. When faced with mental health symptoms, computer driven programs may be a good first line intervention for families.