Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that can benefit people of all ages, including younger children and teens. CBT concentrates on how thoughts and emotions affect behavior. Your child doesn’t need a diagnosed mental health condition to benefit from CBT. Therapy usually involves an agreed-upon goal and a set number of sessions. The therapist will help your child replace negative thought patterns with more productive ones. Your child can practice alternate handling of stressful situations through role-playing and other methods.
We’ll explore what you need to know about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for kids and how to find a qualified therapist.
What is cognitive behavioral therapy?
CBT is a talk therapy developed to help people recognize unhelpful ideas and behaviors and learn how to change them. Treatment concentrates on the present and the future rather than the past.
While CBT isn’t designed to “cure” conditions such as ADHD, it can complement other therapies and help improve specific symptoms.
CBT for kids has practical everyday applications. This therapy can assist your child in comprehending the negativity of their thought patterns and learning how to replace them with more positive ones. Finding new ways of looking at things allows a child to learn how to react differently and enhance rather than worsen stressful situations.
This therapy can give your child realistic strategies to enhance their lives in the here and now. Once these strategies become habits, individuals can carry them throughout their lives.
CBT can help children learn to control:
- self-defeating thoughts
Replacing adverse reactions with:
- improved self-image
- new coping mechanisms
- problem-solving skills
- more self-control
How does CBT for children work?
Usually, a parent or caregiver, the child, and a therapist will examine goals and create a treatment plan.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy involves a structured approach to solving problems in several sessions. Depending on the child and the particular goals, it can be as few as six sessions or as many as 20 or more. While CBT is talk therapy, it’s much more than talk. The therapist will work to provide substantial ways for your child to take control and assign themselves.
Your child can have CBT alone or with medications or any other therapies they might need.
- Play therapy. Arts and crafts, dolls and puppets, or role-playing help the child address problems and work out solutions. This can also help keep younger children entertained.
- Trauma-focused CBT. This therapy method addresses children affected by disasters and traumatic events. The therapist targets the behavioral and cognitive problems related to the child’s trauma.
- Restructuring. This technique allows a child to take a negative thought process and flip it to a better one. For example, “I stink at soccer. I’m a total loser” can become “I’m not the best soccer player, but I’m good at many other things.”
- Exposure. The therapist slowly reveals the child to the things that trigger anxiety.
Whatever the technique, CBT can be conducted in several ways, such as:
- Individual. Sessions involve only the child and the therapist.
- Parent-child. The therapist works with the child and parents, teaching specific parenting skills so their children make the most of CBT.
- Family-based. Sessions can involve parents, siblings, or others close to the child.
- Group. It contains the child, therapist, and other children dealing with the same or similar problems.
Conditions that CBT may help
Your child can benefit from CBT even without a diagnosed mental health condition. But it can be pretty effective in dealing with specific needs, such as:
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Children with ADHD may have difficulty sitting still and engage in impulsive behaviors. While there are medicines to treat this disorder, sometimes they’re not the first or only treatment choice. Even with medications, some children have persistent symptoms. Studies show that adding CBT works better for some teens than medication alone.
Anxiety and mood disorders
CBT effectively treats children and adolescents with anxiety and mood disorders.
A study found “substantial support” for CBT as a beneficial first-line treatment for children with anxiety disorders.
Parents may have a role to play, too. A study found that CBT with energetic parent involvement showed promise as an adequate therapy for those ages 3 to 7 with anxiety. The study involved only 37 children, but they significantly improved in an average of 8.3 treatment sessions.
Anxiety with autism spectrum disorder
Many adolescents with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder have anxiety. In a study, a CBT program was designed for preteens with autism spectrum disorders plus clinical anxiety. The program focused on:
- challenging irrational beliefs
- behavioral support provided by caregivers
- treatment elements specific to autism spectrum disorder
The study included only 33 children aged 11 to 15. According to parents, CBT had a positive effect on anxiety symptoms severity.
How effective is CBT for kids?
Meta-analyses have demonstrated that up to 60% of young patients who undergo cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety disorders experience recovery with a significant decrease in symptoms after the treatment. Furthermore, follow-up studies of children who received treatment in community mental health clinics have shown that the recovery rates will likely persist even four years after the treatment.
Studies indicate that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can significantly reduce ADHD symptom severity in many adolescents.
Among children with PTSD who receive individual trauma-focused CBT, there can be a significant improvement in symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety. The study found that after undergoing CBT, 92% of participants no longer met the criteria for PTSD, and this improvement was sustained at a 6-month follow-up.
CBT can help children understand how thoughts and emotions affect behavior and how changing their thoughts and feelings can change this behavior and how they feel. CBT is a safe, effective therapy that can help kids with various conditions and concerns.