Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety Disorders in Children

Specialists at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center often recommend cognitive behavioral therapy for children and adolescents with anxiety disorders. This type of therapy aims to change the beliefs or behaviors at the root of the anxiety, helping to ease symptoms.

Cognitive behavioral therapy has two components—the cognitive part, which helps a child change how he or she views a situation, and the behavioral part, which helps a child learn how to react differently to it. The goal is to teach children a variety of coping skills to help them manage difficult situations. 

During therapy sessions, your child works with a specially trained therapist at the Child Study Center to learn how his or her thoughts, feelings, and behaviors influence each other. To change unwanted feelings or problematic behaviors, the therapist teaches your child how to respond differently to certain situations. Your child can use the techniques he or she learns during therapy to reduce the effects of anxiety on his or her life.

Although cognitive behavioral therapy is recommended for children with all types of anxiety disorders, a certain type, known as exposure and response prevention, is effective for treating children and adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Exposure and response prevention teaches your child to recognize his or her obsessive thoughts and avoid the associated rituals. 

During the exposure part of this therapy, your child slowly and gradually confronts the thoughts, images, objects, and situations that make him or her anxious. The response prevention component of therapy involves helping the child learn to avoid engaging in a compulsive behavior after coming into contact with an anxiety trigger. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a short-term treatment approach and is typically offered once a week for about 12 to 20 weeks, although therapy for children with more persistent symptoms may last longer.

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