Intensive Outpatient Therapy Helps Children With Depression And Anxiety
We all have our anxious moments or times when we are depressed. It’s normal to feel these emotions when we are in stressful situations. In children, anxiety and depression can manifest differently than it does in adults. We often see more dramatic signs of frustration, irritability, and even anger. Kids might be restless, withdraw socially, or lose their appetite.
Usually these conditions go away once conditions improve. For many children, however, anxiety or depression can drag on and on. It may get worse over time and might even start to interfere with their school life, social relationships, or daily activities. When it reaches this point, it is likely that the child has an anxiety or mood disorder that requires treatment from a child psychologist. Be assured that these conditions are highly treatable.
Traditionally, children who are undergoing treatment for anxiety or depression will see their therapist once or twice a week for 30-60 minute sessions. These sessions often continue for three to four months, but could go on much longer depending on the severity of the child’s disorder. However, a relatively new concept in psychotherapy, called intensive outpatient therapy, is showing promise for helping kids get better faster.
What Is Intensive Outpatient Therapy?
Intensive outpatient therapy is focused therapy that is given over longer treatment sessions. For example, intensive treatment might be concentrated into daily, three-hour sessions given five days in a row over a two to four week period.
Just as with a regular psychotherapy session, intensive treatment uses methods like cognitive behavior therapy CBT, mindfulness, and exposure response and prevention (ERP). The idea behind the intensive sessions is to teach strategies to decrease the child’s symptoms and provide support, but to do it within a framework that allows them to live at home and continue school and family activities.
An intensive outpatient therapy program includes:
- Comprehensive treatment planning
- Learning to recognize unhealthy behaviors
- Building successful problem solving abilities
- Learning coping strategies and skills
- Methods and practice to aid in asking for and getting support
- Follow up sessions to reinforce these new skills
Although intensive therapy is fairly new, research is showing that it is just as beneficial as long term therapy or in-patient centered therapy. A 2012 study of adults by Ritschel, Cheavens, and Nelson at the Emory University School of Medicine reported that, “Depression and anxiety scores decreased significantly and hope scores increased significantly over the course of treatment.“
Children who have anxiety and depression make similar advances when they undergo intensive outpatient therapy. These gains are long-lasting, just as they are for traditional treatment.
Intensive therapy involves parents as well as children. During treatment, family meetings are held so that parents can better understand the therapy process and learn how to best support their child.
Additionally, children may interact with other kids so they can see that others are going through similar challenges. This is also an opportunity for them to relate to children their own age in a way they may not be able to with their peers or siblings who don’t face the same concerns.
If you are looking for an intensive program for your child, be sure that whichever one you choose utilizes therapists who have been highly trained in treating anxiety and depression in children and teens.
Also, you want the program to be individualized to your child. They should feel a connection with the therapist. The therapist should work with your child to develop a plan specifically for their needs in order to maximize the outcome of their treatment.
Who Would Benefit From Intensive Outpatient Therapy?
Sometimes a child struggles with depression or anxiety symptoms while still being able to function in their daily life. At other times, they may need more focused therapy and support. Intensive outpatient treatment would work for both children. Intensive therapy can also provide rapid and effective management in someone with severe symptoms who has taken time away from school for their recovery.
To be most effective, children who participate in intensive therapy should:
- Attend every session. This can be difficult if they are having bad days, but they will get the most benefit by coming to every appointment.
- Allow themselves time to process what they are learning.
- Treat themselves gently while they learn that it’s okay to make mistakes
- Trust in the therapy and therapist.
Learning coping skills and effective management of symptoms may continue on and off during a child’s life. Sometimes kids need a “booster” even after intensive therapy, but trusting that the psychotherapists and treatment will help can aid in quickly reducing and managing moderate to severe anxiety and depression.