Research Validates Parent-Directed Treatments For Kids’ Anxiety

Parents often contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Tele-Counseling Practice for help in addressing their children’s anxiety.  Whether phobias, separation anxiety, school related social anxiety or other anxiety related problems of childhood, our first approach is to work with the parents to teach them to help their children directly.  I and my therapists teach parents techniques to use with their children.  The parents report the results and we teach them the next steps.

We have two reasons for taking that approach.  First, we take seriously the Church’s assertion that parents are their children’s primary educators.  We think that, whenever possible, children should be able to turn to their parents for whatever help they need.  Our role as counselors should be to empower parents not replace them.

Second, children, generally speaking find therapy to be stigmatizing.  My whole background is in family therapy.  So many kids come to therapy feeling like their being punished for something or afraid that seeing a counselor means they are “crazy.”  A good therapist can get through this but, I think, the best therapists can avoid it altogether whenever possible.

If the parent-directed approach doesn’t work, sometimes we have to step in and work more directly with the child.  But we find that this is not the norm.

When we initially explain our approach, many parents worry that it won’t work.  That perhaps they aren’t up to what we’re asking them to do.  What if they do it wrong?  We assure them that the vast majority of parents are more than able to help their children–with appropriate support–through most anxiety issues.  Our experience bears this out, but now, parents don’t have to take our word for it.

Children with an anxiety disorder who receive cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) via their parents are three times more likely to recover from their anxiety, compared to children who received no treatment, according to a new study by the University of Reading.

The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, focused on 64 families with children, between the ages of 7 and 12, who suffer from an anxiety disorder. 

For eight weeks, parents were given brief weekly sessions on how to use CBT with their child.

Mental disorders are becoming increasingly common among children, with approximately 20 percent of children suffering from significant symptoms of anxiety and between 5 percent and 10 percent of children meeting diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder.

Children with anxiety disorders may have problems socializing with their peers, lack confidence in trying new things, and may underachieve at school and risk social exclusion. Childhood anxiety is also known to be a risk for development of future problems, including depression, substance and alcohol abuse, and poorer physical health.

“We studied 194 children who had a variety of diagnoses, including generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, separation anxiety disorder, panic disorder/agoraphobia and specific phobia,” said lead study author Dr. Kerstin Thirlwall.

The researchers found that the children who received cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) via their parents are three times more likely to recover from their anxiety, compared to children who received no treatment.  MORE

For more information on effective parenting and Christian approaches to dealing with anxiety, check out Parenting with Grace (see the chapter titled, “Boo!  Dealing with Childhood Fears”)  and God Help Me, This Stress is Driving Me Crazy!  or contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute  (740-266-6461) for more information on working with a faithful, professional, Catholic counselor through our tele-counseling practice.

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About Dr. Greg

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to marriage, family, and personal problems. Together with his wife, Lisa, he hosts More2Life Radio. He is the author of over a dozen books integrating psychological insights with our Catholic faith. For more info about books, tele-counseling and other resources, visit www.CatholicCounselors.com.

  • adoptive parent

    Dr. Popcak, I’m curious whether you think the results from this study hold for adopted children as well.


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