Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Children

It has been scientifically proven that cognitive behavioural therapy works as effectively for children and adolescents as they do for adults. A lot of children today suffer from depression, anxiety and physical ailments arising from such negative emotions. A negative emotion leads to behavior that is supposed to help the child cope with it (this is a natural human reaction), but the behavior actually results in the negative emotion continuing to exist, creating a vicious cycle. An example would be that of a child running away to his room when he feels upset – doing so gives him more time and space to dwell on the emotion and since he cannot run away to his room anymore, he starts dealing with it in another way. This is usually another unhealthy behavior like an addiction to something else, which only increases his feelings of worthlessness and pushes him deeper into misery.

Negative emotions in older children include guilt, suicidal tendencies, existential thinking and morbid introspection, while younger children are more ‘clingy’ or dependent on their parents, when they should be gradually becoming more independent. Depression in children is not always recognized as such owing to the fact that they display their states of mind in ways that are different from adults. Sometimes it could manifest itself in the form of irritability and/or outbursts of temper. These symptoms tend to be viewed as behavioral problems instead, delaying access to a mental health professional.

The only way to break the cycle is to teach the child to respond to the situation in a healthy way – and this is exactly what cognitive behaviour therapy does, inculcating helpful behavior instead. One frequently observed facet is that children are often stressed out by none other than their parents, who often place unrealistic demands on them with respect to academics. They are repeatedly told that nothing short of success will do, and that it is not okay to fail. This puts immense pressure on them, which increases their chances of failure. Cognitive behavioral therapy is about children learning that it is perfectly okay to fail if you have put your best effort into it. It changes their thought process – children learn to pick themselves up if they fall instead of crying over it.

Case study
Nine-year-old Britta started over-eating and when her weight gain proved to be too much, she was started on a course of cognitive behavior therapy. Over 12 sessions, she learnt to deal with the fact that her parents had separated and overcome her fear of not being able to see her dad anymore. She started making friends at her new school and gained the courage to sleep with the lights off, both of which she wasn’t capable of earlier.

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