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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Separation Anxiety Disorder Produces Dramatic Improvements In Young Children

a crying boyA group of Swiss researchers headed by Prof. Sylvia Schneider has published a groundbreaking study on treatment of separation anxiety in the current issue of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. Separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is one of the earliest and most common mental disorders in childhood, and a strong predictor of adult psychopathology. Despite significant progress in psychotherapy research on childhood anxiety disorders, no randomized controlled trial has been conducted with a disorder-specific treatment program for young children suffering from SAD.

Forty-three children (ages 5–7) with SAD and their parents were assigned to either a 16-session disorder-specific SAD treatment program including parent training and classical cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) components, or to a 12-week waiting list
group. Categorical and/or continuous data for anxiety, impairment/distress, and quality of life were collected at baseline, after treatment/waiting list condition, and at a 4-week follow-up.

Intention-to-treat analyses indicate that 76.19% of children allocated to the treatment group no longer fulfilled DSM-IV criteria for SAD at follow-up, compared to 13.64% in the waiting list group. In addition, between 91 and 100% of children rated themselves or were rated by their father, mother, or therapist as very much or much improved on the global success rating immediately after treatment. Results indicated large time 
by treatment condition interaction effect sizes (d = 0.98 – 1.41) across informants for reduction of distress/avoidance in separation situations for the treatment condition.

Further, parents reported significant improvements in impairment/distress in the child’s major life domains and the
 child’s quality of life. Treatment gains were maintained at the 4-week follow-up assessment.

In summary, short-term efficacy of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Separation Anxiety Disorder was found to be very effective in young children.

Material adapted from Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.

Schneider, S., Blatter-Meunier, J., Herren, C., Adornetto, C., In-Albon, T., & Lavallee, K. Disorder-Specific Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Separation Anxiety Disorder in Young Children: A Randomized Waiting-List-Controlled Trial. Psychother Psychosom 2011;80:206-215

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