6 Types of Evidence-Based Therapies for Young People
Clinical jargon can quickly overwhelm parents, and although the field of child psychology has blossomed in the 21st century, it has also left families with a growing list of treatment options. Not all therapeutic methods will be effective in every child. Before starting their search, parents should learn which evidence-based therapies are available and how they work. By taking time to educate themselves, parents can make more accurate decisions on behalf of their children.
Behavior therapy is used in psychology as a broad term for clinical therapy that seeks to help patients learn or unlearn certain behaviors. We all find certain behaviors rewarding that may not serve us well in the long-term: i.e., binging on sugary snacks, procrastinating on an important project, rolling through a stop sign, etc. In behavior therapy, children and parents learn ways to link good behaviors with concrete rewards.
A child in behavioral therapy may undergo specific treatments tailored to meet certain challenges, like behavioral classroom management or behavioral peer intervention. Many of these treatments involve modeling, in which therapists demonstrate neutral emotional responses for the child in a particular situation.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (known as CBT) focuses on the relationship between emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. CBT operates on the premise that we can interrupt maladaptive emotion-thought-behavior cycles and learn more productive habits. For example, if a child experiences anxiety around other kids, they can gradually learn to replace an anxious response (like avoidance) with calming behaviors or exercises.
CBT has been shown to be particularly effective in children with anxiety-related disorders, such as PTSD, OCD, or depression. CBT can also aid in treatment of adolescent substance abuse.
Like in CBT, cognitive therapy is based on the connection between emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Cognitive therapy identifies the child’s day-to-day issues and sets a clear list of goals to work toward during treatment. Cognitive therapists believe that changing a patient’s behavior and reframing their thoughts will in turn change their emotional responses.
Cognitive therapy is a great way to address cognitive distortions in children. Cognitive distortions are thoughts that we may perceive as accurate, when in reality, anxiety or stress is warping our viewpoint.
Family therapy is a form of group therapy that targets interactions between family members. Sessions seek to improve communication and build mental health within the home dynamic. Therapists may guide conversations between family members through pointed questions, as well as with intervention when needed.
Family therapy can be helpful for any household, but is especially relevant for families with special needs children. Parents can work with therapists to build reward systems and reinforce positive behaviors.
Dialectical behavior therapy
Dialectial behavior therapy (known as DBT) is a form of treatment for adolescents struggling with suicidal tendencies, self-harm, or mood disorders. DBT helps teens develop coping strategies in response to emotional triggers, combining elements of cognitive behavioral therapy with group therapy. Patients and parents may attend weekly sessions to learn new skills and address immediate issues.
Individual therapy and group therapy work in tandem during DBT to help patients regulate emotions in a real-world social setting. Family sessions help parents learn how to best facilitate progress made throughout treatment.
Interpersonal psychotherapy (known as IPT) is a short-term course of treatment that helps children alleviate distress in response to interpersonal situations or life events. For example, the patient may be struggling to adapt to a new school environment, grieving a significant loss in the family, or dealing with a hard breakup.
Over the course of treatment, therapists help children or adolescents identify the origins of their distress and learn new ways to act in response. Patients can also learn how to facilitate interpersonal relationships in spite of depression’s isolating tendencies.