Parent-Child Therapy Helps Young Children With Depression

Posted on June 21, 2018

Children as young as 3 can be clinically depressed, and often that depression recurs as kids get older and go to school. It also can reappear during adolescence and throughout life. However, new research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis demonstrates that an interactive therapy involving parents and their depressed children can reduce rates of depression and lower the severity of children's symptoms.

For the study, researchers adapted a treatment known as Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) that was developed in the 1970s to correct disruptive behavior in preschoolers. The adaptation involved adding a series of sessions focused on emotions. The 18-week, 20-session therapy program begins with a truncated version of the traditional PCIT program, then focuses more on enhancing emotional development. Among the ways of doing so is an activity in which researchers place a package for a child in a room and then make the child wait to open it. The parent wears an earpiece and is coached by a therapist observing through a one-way mirror. The idea is to give children tools to keep their emotions under control, and to train parents to help their children reinforce those tools.

Children who received the intervention right away had lower rates of depression after 18 weeks and less impairment overall. If depression continued after the treatment, it tended to be less severe than that seen in the kids who had not yet received therapy. Interestingly, the researchers also found that symptoms of clinical depression improved in the parents who worked with their children during the study -- even without targeting the parent directly, if a parent has been depressed, his or her depression improves.

Overall, by identifying depression as early as possible and then helping children try to change the way they process their emotions, it may be possible to change the trajectory of depression and perhaps reduce or prevent recurrent bouts of the disorder later in life.


Category(s):Child and/or Adolescent Issues, Depression

Source material from Science Daily


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