Benefits of Talk Therapy - Children (18 and Younger)
Talk therapy, also known as "psychotherapy", has shown to be clinically beneficial for children and adolescents dealing with trauma-related difficulties, eating disorders, depression, anxiety and behavior disorders, learning difficulties, personality disorders, and developmental issues. Online virtual therapies have also shown to be effective resources for addressing the mental health needs of young patients, although they do need to be combined with proper outside motivation. Below you will find a deep dive of my findings.
Please note that, due to the nature of the academic sources, some of them have been published within more than 24 months, but were still included due to the fact that the research provided continues to be relevant.
TYPES OF PSYCHOTHERAPY FOR CHILDREN
As listed by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, the different types of psychotherapy for children and adolescents:
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) — Helps treat mood, anxiety, depression and behavior, by looking into confused or distorted thinking patterns. Specialized forms of CBT can help children cope with traumatic experiences.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) — Generally prescribed to treat older adolescents with chronic suicidal feelings or thoughts, those who engage in intentional self-harm, or have Borderline Personality Disorder, helping them through a combination of group and individual sessions.
Family Therapy — Explores patterns of communication and offers support and education, involving other members of the family in addition to the child.
Group Therapy — Using the power of group dynamics, this form of psychotherapy involves treating multiple patients at the same time, led by one or more therapists. Benefits include increased understanding of mental illness and improvement of social skills.
Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) — Developed and tested for depression, IPT focuses on the way interpersonal events affect an individual's emotional state. Difficulties are framed in interpersonal terms and problematic relationships are addressed afterward.
Play Therapy — Using toys and other tools familiar to children, this type of therapy helps them recognize, identify, and verbalize their feelings. The counselor observes the way the child uses the materials and identifies themes or patterns that can help understand the problems the patient is facing.
Psychodynamic Psychotherapy — Through the understanding of what motivates a child's behavior, their thoughts and their feelings, this form of therapy can help identify typical behavior patterns, defenses, and responses to inner conflicts and struggles. It normally involves several sessions per week.
BEST PRACTICES: CONFIDENTIALITY
This American Psychology Association article from March 2002 discusses best practices for psychologists working with adolescents regarding ethics and confidentiality. The confidentiality issue is considered from three perspectives: law, clinical practice, and ethics. As a general rule, minors cannot consent to being treated themselves and need the consent of a parent or guardian, who in turn gets full access to the child's treatment information. There can only be a few rare exceptions to this rule, such as minors who are married, serving in the military, seeking substance abuse or sexually transmitted disease treatment. From the clinical perspective, a paradox arises: good treatment normally requires a zone of privacy, which is refused to the child by the law. Ethically, the therapist's clinical judgment is used to establish whether revealing information to a parent can help or be counterproductive to the treatment, and it is accepted within the realm of treatment best practices that a professional can withhold such information for the sake of treatment success, in many cases achieving better communication between the patient and their guardians when they disclose any necessary information themselves.
BEST PRACTICES: PARENT INVOLVEMENT IN CHILDREN'S TREATMENT
Parenting has great impact in the outcome of therapy treatments in young children. This study by N. Bornsheuer and Richard E. Watts titled "Play Therapy and Parent Consultation: A Review of Best Practices" covers parents' active role and involvement in their children's treatment through consultations with the counselor and the importance of establishing a working relationship with the professional. The goal is to ensure that the parents' skills work hand in hand with those of the professional, ensuring that the benefits acquired during treatment are continued once it terminates.
Some best practices for the involvement of parents in children's mental health treatments, as cited in this 2008 paper titled "Best Practices in Children’s Mental Health" by the University of Kansas, are making sure to provide culturally competent services; showing due respect and concern to parents; increasing knowledge of resources and treatment options; using framework for the initial phone call, first session, and any ongoing sessions; facilitating collaboration during treatment; and providing hope to parents that the situation can improve.
THE Benefits of PSYCHOTHERAPY
As described by this study published by the US Department of Health & Human Services, a specific form of psychotherapy, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), which is an evidence-based counseling framework that addresses the needs of children and adults suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), has proven useful in reducing PTSD symptoms, as well as behavioral difficulties in children with depression. Randomized clinical trials showed greater gains with fewer sessions that sustain over time, comparing TF-CBT to others such as supportive therapy, nondirective play therapy or child-centered therapy. It has been proven that children showing improvement normally face less intrusive thoughts and avoidance behaviors; are able to better cope with reminders and trauma-associated emotions; show fewer signs of depression, anxiety, disassociation, behavior problems, sexualized behavior, and trauma-related shame; demonstrate improved interpersonal trust and social competence; develop better personal safety skills; and become more prepared to cope with future trauma reminders (as stated by Cohen, Deblinger, Mannarino, & Steer, 2004). Similar positive responses were proven to be true for parents, as well (also stated by Cohen, Berliner, & Mannarino, 2000; Deblinger, Lippmann, & Steer, 1996). TF-CBT studies have shown parents experience reductions in depression and emotional distress associated with the child’s trauma, as well as PTSD symptoms. This also results in an enhanced ability to support their children.
Additionally, the effects of psychodynamic therapy (an evidence-based treatment with proven results similar or greater than those of other psychotherapies) do not only sustain over time, but they also grow stronger (Harvard Medical School, 2010).
Kennedy (2004) performed an independent systematic review of research that looked at the effectiveness of psychoanalytic psychotherapy in children and young people. Similarly, Kennedy and Midgley (2007) conducted a thematic review.
The systematic review found child psychotherapy to be effective in treating patients coping with depression, anxiety and behavior disorders, personality disorders, learning difficulties, eating disorders, and developmental issues.
At the same time, it was found to be helpful in the treatment of sexually abused girls, as well as those who have suffered early emotional deprivation, and children with poorly controlled diabetes, helping them manage their emotional response to the illness.
Effectiveness OF VIRTUAL THERAPY ON CHILDREN
As per this paper by Stephen M. Schueller, Ph.D., Colleen Stiles-Shields, M.A., M.S., and Lana Yarosh, Ph.D., effective online and virtual therapies have been both developed and evaluated for children and adolescents, treating several mental and behavioral health conditions. Children and adolescents have unique capabilities and interests when it comes to technology-based interventions, making the development of such treatments especially important. Innovative therapies use social networking, games, and virtual humans, and appear to be on track for important contributions in the near future. The use of online treatments and virtual therapists has the potential to successfully expand the mental health options available to a wider population of patients.
Several randomized trials have demonstrated the efficacy of online tools and web-based applications in reducing depression and/or anxiety symptoms, and eating and alcohol abuse disorders in children and adolescents. Internet-based tools address somatic health problems in youth, including obesity, smoking, HIV/AIDS risk, and sexual risk. Although measurable improvements have been made, Internet interventions very much depend on the context they are used in to enhance motivation. It is estimated that less than 10% of the population is ready to engage a lifestyle change online with no further help from peers.
Psychotherapy has proven to be clinically beneficial for children under 18 years of age coping with PTSD, eating disorders, depression, anxiety and behavior disorders, learning difficulties, personality disorders, and developmental issues. Online virtual therapies can be easily directed at this target group because of their unique relationship with technology, but do need to be combined with motivation from the patient's context. Parent's involvement in treatment is a key best practice for its success; and when it comes to minors, the law requires full disclosure of a patient's treatment to their guardians. However, confidentiality is also a big factor in creating trust between the therapist and the patient, so professionals have to cope with deciding whether sharing information can help, and are sometimes able to direct the patient to share it themselves, thereby, improving communication with their parents.