Experts say that emotional problems in childhood are common with 8 to 22 percent of children suffering from anxiety. And anxiety is typically associated with other conditions such as depression.
But researchers say current treatment strategies are not designed to treat coexisting psychological problems. Consequently, intervention is often not very successful in helping children with complex emotional issues.
A new strategy to develop a more effective treatment for co-occurring youth anxiety and depression has been developed by University of Miami psychologist Dr. Jill Ehrenreich-May and her collaborator, doctoral student Emily L. Bilek.
The intervention is called Emotion Detectives Treatment Protocol (EDTP), an approach that addresses the multiple conditions that occur in emotional disorders. Preliminary findings from use of the technique suggest a significant reduction in the severity of anxiety and depression in children.
“We are very excited about the potential of EDTP,” said Ehrenreich-May, principal investigator of the study.
“Not only could the protocol better address the needs of youth with commonly co-occurring disorders and symptoms, it may also provide additional benefits to mental health professionals,” she said.
“EDTP offers a more unified approach to treatment that, we hope, will allow for an efficient and cost-effective treatment option for clinicians and clients alike.”
Researchers say EDTP is an adaptation of two treatment protocols developed for adults and adolescents — the Unified Protocols.
The EDTP program employs age-appropriate techniques to deliver education about emotions and how to manage them, strategies for evaluating situations, problem-solving skills, behavior activation (a technique to reduce depression), and parent training.
Researchers delivered the group therapy program of EDTP over a 15-week period. Twenty-two children, ages 7 to 12 with a principal diagnosis of an anxiety disorder and secondary issues of depression, participated in the program.
Among participants who completed the protocol (18 out of 22), 14 no longer met criteria for an anxiety disorder at post-treatment. Additionally, among participants who were assigned a depressive disorder before treatment (5 out of 22), only one participant continued to meet such criteria at post-treatment.
A unique finding from the study was that the presence of depressive symptoms did not predict poorer treatment response. The results also show a high percentage of attendance.
The findings imply that EDTP may offer a better treatment option for children experiencing anxiety and depression.
“Previous research has shown that depressive symptoms tend to weaken treatment response for anxiety disorders. We were hopeful that a broader, more generalized approach would better address this common co-occurrence,” said Bilek, co-author of the study.
“We were not surprised to find that the EDTP had equivalent outcomes for individuals with and without elevated depressive symptoms, but we were certainly pleased to find that this protocol may address this important issue.”
The study is published online ahead of print in the journal Behavior Therapy.
Source: University of Miami