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Sometimes we need to ask for help. If your child has been struggling with anxiety for a while and you are looking for a professional expert to step in, consider having your child meet with a cognitive behavioral therapist.
Known as the gold standard in the psychotherapeutic treatment of patients with anxiety disorders, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most evidence-based non-drug treatment available for anxiety disorders. Studies have also shown that CBT can be as useful as antidepressants for some people dealing with depression.
What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
CBT is a type of talk therapy that helps children and teens examine their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with the guidance of a trained psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker. The key aspect of CBT is that it shows the patient how to replace negative thoughts with more realistic, positive ones to overcome their fears. It is also unique in that it doesn’t dwell on the past (like traditional talk therapy tends to). Instead, CBT helps kids focus on the present and future, and to realize they have control over their lives and can change their behaviors that are causing them strife.
CBT for anxiety is more than just talking, as the therapist and child work together to set goals, identify problems, and check progress. Kids typically have assignments to do between sessions to build the skills they are learning, such as practical exercises; reading; or writing down habits, behaviors, emotions, or reactions. All of this structure is attractive to many, ensuring that the time spent in therapy is productive.
The therapist is not there to analyze every moment in the patient’s life or to advise them on what they should do to address specific situations. Instead, the CBT therapist gives children the tools to manage the anxiety themselves. These are invaluable skills that they can use for a lifetime.
Finally, a huge benefit of CBT is that it tends to take less time than other types of therapy that can last for years. The average number of sessions is 16, or about four months. Of course, each child is different, so be open to either fewer or more appointments depending on the progress your child is making. CBT can be helpful for children as young as 6 or 7 years old. However, they need to be able to understand their underlying thought patterns, which may not happen for some kids until they are a bit older.
Therapists use a whole host of cognitive behavioral therapy exercises to help children learn how to better manage their anxiety. These tools teach them to question their negative thoughts instead of just accepting them, improve their ability to deal with problems, and be proactive by breaking down challenges into steps and tackling each one at a time.
One of the most critical goals of this process is to teach the anxious child how to find some distance from the fear they are experiencing and start thinking of it as an entity that is separate from who they are. This was done really well in the movie Inside Out, when fear was presented as a specific character we could all see and hear. It is also really important to help kids understand how their anxiety is affecting their lives, such as preventing them from having as much fun as they wish they could.
- Cognitive Restructuring. Kids learn to recognize and replace negative thoughts by changing what they tell themselves on a daily basis. For instance, they might work to rephrase “I stink at sports” to “Some types of sports are hard for me but there are others that I am good at.”
- Exposure Therapy. Kids are exposed to the things that trigger their anxiety in structured, incremental steps in a safe setting. This encourages them to gradually and repeatedly face their fears. As they become used to each of the triggers, the anxiety dissipates and they can move on to the next challenge. A hierarchy of fears is typically used to help a child keep working through their fears and mastering more difficult ones over time.
- Behavioral Experiments. This is an effective way to test thoughts. Children may be asked to switch their self-talk from being critical to being kind to see how it affects their thoughts and feelings about a particular issue.
- Pleasant Activity Scheduling. This involves scheduling at least one activity each day that gives the child a sense of accomplishment. Doing activities that produce higher levels of positive emotions help patients change their thinking to be less negative and self-focused. Learn how to help your child set SMART goals.
- Imagery Based Exposure. This involves thinking about a recent memory that provoked strong negative emotions and now reframing it in a more positive light.
- Thought Records. Children record their thoughts and then later evaluate the evidence for and against those thoughts with their therapist. Once they look at their thoughts more objectively from multiple perspectives, they can learn how to have more balanced thoughts in the future. For example, children may think that their teacher doesn’t like them if they are not called on often in class. By examining the many reasons why they aren’t getting called on as much as they would like, they will realize it is not as bad as they perceived the situation. The teacher may have run out of time, is giving other students a turn, or simply isn’t keeping track of who is called on each day.
How To Get Help
Fortunately, there are many options to find therapy for kids including online experts at BetterHelp or try searching for “cognitive behavioral therapy near me”. Be sure to keep an eye out for red flags that may indicate your child needs help. Once your child is on the right path to managing anxiety, the entire family will be happier.
Have you tried cognitive behavioral therapy for your family?