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Oxford Research Offers Breakthrough in Child Anxiety Treatment

Doctor giving Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to kids

According to recent research from the University of Oxford, an online program that enables parents to incorporate the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) into their child’s daily life is just as effective for treating child anxiety issues as traditional talking therapies.

It also significantly reduces the amount of time spent with the therapist and increases accessibility for many families. The method helps parents help their children overcome anxiety issues by giving them access to online resources and some professional guidance. 

The results, which were published in The Lancet Psychiatry, indicate that this parent-led online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) paradigm may open up more treatment options for families at a reduced cost while also lowering potential access obstacles. This may have significant effects on increasing children’s access to much-needed mental health care.  

Approximately 25% of adults have had anxiety disorders at some point in their lives, making them one of the most prevalent mental health issues that youngsters confront. They can have a negative influence on wellbeing, educational attainment, and social development if left untreated. Despite being an effective treatment, few children may receive cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) since mental health services are in great demand.  

With funding from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and a United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) Research Grant, researchers created “Online Support and Intervention” (OSI), an online program that walks parents through CBT techniques to help their anxious child, in order to close this gap. It contains instructional materials, resources including worksheets and tests, and brief weekly phone or video counseling from a therapist.  

Professor Cathy Creswell, who teaches developmental clinical psychology at the department of experimental psychology at Oxford University, clarified, saying that anxiety disorders frequently begin in childhood and cause a great deal of distress. Our research indicates that by providing therapist support together with online tools to assist parents in helping their kids, we can significantly raise the number of kids who receive timely and efficient assistance.”  

The study examined almost 400 children aged 5 to 12 receiving treatment from 34 child mental health services in England and Northern Ireland, comparing OSI plus therapist support to standard, in-person care. Similar decreases in anxiety and gains in daily functioning were observed in the children receiving OSI with therapist support as compared to the children getting basic CBT.  
Significantly, the average time needed for OSI delivery by therapists was almost half that of conventional care, taking 182 minutes as opposed to 307 minutes. On the basis of this, researchers concluded that OSI might enable more children to receive therapy inside overburdened mental health systems without sacrificing results. This may significantly increase access to efficient anxiety therapy if it were widely used.  

“The OSI program shows that we can support children with anxiety problems in a way that fits into family life and potentially reach many more families by reducing demand on services,” Professor Creswell stated. “This approach could make a real difference to child and adolescent mental health services, offering a practical solution to the current gap between the need for treatment and its availability.”  

Parents and therapists were also questioned by the researchers regarding their experiences. The online program was deemed versatile, user-friendly, and well-suited for families by parents. Many said OSI gave them the lifelong skills they needed to control their child’s anxiety as well as the anxiety of other kids. The prospect of OSI to assist more families in need excited therapists.  

Co-author Dr. Vanessa Raymont, Director of Research and Development at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist, remarked, “Waiting lists for children’s mental health treatments are getting longer and longer across the nation. This study demonstrates that it is possible to empower parents to support their nervous children through technology-assisted treatment, which could result in significant time and financial savings without sacrificing therapeutic advantages.  
The results give hope that health care systems will adopt innovations like Open Source Initiative (OSI), taking cues from past successful digital health care rollouts to revolutionize children’s mental health care and make timely, effective treatment available to a greater number of families. 

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Journal Reference  

Cathy Creswell et al, Digitally augmented, parent-led CBT versus treatment as usual for child anxiety problems in child mental health services in England and Northern Ireland: a pragmatic, non-inferiority, clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness randomised controlled trial, The Lancet Psychiatry (2024). DOI: 10.1016/S2215-0366(23)00429-7.

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