Treating kids’ phobias in three hours, and OCD in four days

New studies seem to support that very short, intense cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be as helpful as traditional CBT treatment schedules in helping kids with anxiety disorders like OCD. And when I say short, I’m talking about three hours of treatment for phobias and four days of therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to a meta-analysis by Thomas Ollendick, director of Virgina Tech’s Child Study Center, and Stockholm University professor emeritus Lars-Göran Öst, as described in Scientific American, “with the quicker therapies, 54 percent of patients were better immediately post-treatment, and that rose to 64 percent on follow-up—presumably because they continued to practice and apply what they had learned. With standard therapy, 57 percent were better after the final session and 63 percent on follow-up.” I’m sure mileage varies tremendously between individuals but cognitive behavioral therapy absolutely works and if there’s a more efficient way for kids (and adults) to learn the techniques and then actually use them to get relief, that’s fantastic news. From Scientific American:

The details vary, but the quick treatments have some common features. They generally begin with “psychoeducation,” in which patients learn about their condition and the catastrophic thoughts that keep it locked in place. In Bergen, this is done in a small group. With children, the lessons may be more hands-on and concrete. For instance, Ollendick might help a snake-phobic kid grasp why the creature moves in a creepy, slithering way by having the child lie on the floor and try to go forward without using any limbs.

A second part usually involves “exposure and response prevention,” in which patients confront in incremental steps whatever triggers their anxiety: perhaps shopping, for agoraphobics, or having dirty hands, for people with OCD. With support from the therapist, they learn to tolerate it and see it as less threatening. Patients leave with homework to reinforce the lessons. Parents may be taught how to support a child’s progress.

Brief, intensive and concentrated cognitive behavioral treatments for anxiety disorders in children: A systematic review and meta-analysis.(Behaviour Research and Therapy)


David Pescovitz

David Pescovitz is Boing Boing’s co-editor. On Instagram, he’s @pesco.