CBT for Young People with Depression

Parenting a child or adolescent with depression can be a difficult, frustrating experience. This is where a licensed psychotherapist trained in CBT can provide invaluable assistance. The therapist has the benefit of emotional distance from your child and can handle therapy from an objective point of view.

There are several reasons why CBT is an effective psychotherapy for children and adolescents, but one seems paramount: CBT employs characteristics of a familiar setting for young people — school. The therapist initially is seen as teacher, and there is homework.

Where CBT differs from most school situations, however, is in the degree of autonomy the young person can expect to encounter and the sense of empowerment that this encourages. It's actually closer to the ideal model of mentor and student than it is to school in American society today.

Research from the University of California at Los Angeles

In a UCLA study of CBT's effectiveness on young people with depression, researchers found that in 14 of 16 clinical trials, CBT therapy had measureable, positive effects. Researcher John Weiss, speaking on National Public Radio's (NPR) All Things Considered in June 2004, explained that, of the available psychotherapies, CBT is the most reliably beneficial treatment for young people.

CBT works fast — in 12 to 20 sessions. That's the time span of just a few months. And what it accomplishes in that short time is nothing short of remarkable. Young people take away with them a “menu of coping skills: problem-solving behaviors, thoughts that are less self-critical, and enjoyable activities.” With such a good assortment, young people find several that work well for them.

Research from the University of Texas at Austin

Researchers at UT Austin decided to study how helpful CBT would be to even younger groups of people — elementary and middle school girls. Their study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), was reported on during that same series on depression and young people that ran on NPR during June 2004.

Researchers already knew that, starting with adolescence, girls experience depression at a rate three times that of boys the same age. The researchers wanted to see if early work with CBT would help reduce that rate, so they set about to create a therapy that was gender-specific.

The girls in the study had their CBT sessions at their school. They met twice a week for a period of 10 weeks, and early data collected suggested that 87 percent of the girls were no longer depressed after therapy. This was extremely exciting news.

Snapshot of CBT Problem Solving in Young People

The worries of children and adults can be wide-ranging. In children, depression can ensue as the result of experiences at home or at school. A child who is depressed and feels that no one likes him will withdraw more and more, and the depression will worsen.

A therapist trained in CBT will help the child articulate that belief and let the child explain why he feels that way. Perhaps no one talks to him. The therapist will ask the child for possible reasons why no one is speaking to him. Then, the child may offer that he doesn't speak to them. That provides the opening for the therapist to teach communication strategies to tackle the problem. From there they can work together to build successes.

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