Last updated: 4 January 2021
This article covers:
– What types of therapies are involved?
– What types of professionals are involved?
– The journey of recovery from anxiety
What types of therapies are involved?
Psychological therapies are important when treating anxiety disorders. It gives a child or young person the chance to tackle the root of the disorder. There are two therapies that are involved: Cognitive behavioural therapy and exposure therapy. Most of the time, these two therapies are referred to under the same umbrella of cognitive behavioural therapy.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
CBT is a type of talk therapy that focuses on how we think and act and how this affects how we feel. Research has shown that CBT is highly effective for treating different types of anxiety disorders in children and young people. CBT can take anywhere between 6-20 sessions, depending on the severity of the anxiety and the child or young person’s age. CBT for anxiety is a short-term treatment.
The idea behind CBT with children and young people is that they get to talk about their anxiety and learn new skills, which they can use to fight off the anxiety. This all takes place in an environment of safety that the therapist is able to create for the child or young person.
Depending on the child or young person’s age, the therapist will come up with a good way to help them to overcome their anxiety using CBT.
With a young child, the therapist might focus more on changing the behaviours of the child. This is because young children may not be able to really say how they feel and tend to show more behavioural signs of anxiety. With teenagers, the therapist may be able to use similar techniques that are used with adults, focusing on feelings, thoughts and behaviours.
The therapist always finds it useful to involve other family members in the process of treatment. This is because family members also play a part in influencing the child or young person on a day-to-day basis. So, if the therapist can get the family on board, there are greater chances of success.
Exposure therapy is a type of behavioural therapy that focuses on helping the child to be exposed to their anxiety until it naturally fades away. Exposure therapy is commonly used as part of CBT. So, it is also a short-term treatment.
Exposure therapy is most helpful for severe and specific anxiety disorders. These include anxiety disorders that cause a great inconvenience in everyday life of the child or young person. For example, having to turn down birthday parties because the child has a fear of balloons. These disorders might include specific phobias, panic disorder, social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The idea behind exposure therapy is that if the child or young person can tolerate the anxious feelings for long enough, they will notice that the anxiety will eventually pass and nothing bad will actually happen.
The therapist will expose the child or young person gradually to situations from the least to the most anxiety-provoking. For example, to help a child with their intense fear of balloons, the therapist might first expose them to pictures and videos of balloons, before they face the real thing. The child or young person will eventually master each stage and will be able to stop the anxiety from taking over again.
Exposure therapy is a powerful tool for treating anxiety. It also takes a lot of hard work from the child or young person and their parents. The idea of facing a fearful situation might sound daunting, but it is worthwhile if it means that the child or young person can live anxiety-free and their parents can benefit from a peace of mind.
What types of professionals are involved?
There are different professionals that may or may not be involved throughout the treatment process of anxiety for children and young people. These might include counsellors, psychotherapists and doctors/psychiatrist. These terms might be confusing, but the main difference is in the training that each of these professionals have received.
In the UK, there is not much of a distinction made between counsellor or psychotherapist. Both of these professionals provide therapy. However, there are some slight differences between these two professional terms. These are outlined below.
Counsellors: Counselling is focused on helping people with what they need right now. Compared to psychotherapists, counsellors tend to have had a shorter training, and they help people deal with their issues on a more short-term basis. There may be school-based counsellors available that children and young people can approach at their own school, if they feel they need support with their anxiety. Here at Mindsum, there are counsellors that are available to provide support.
Psychotherapists: Psychotherapy training tends to be longer. Psychotherapists can also give counselling, but their approach to talk-therapy is more in-depth, exploring the history and causes of certain behaviours and emotional issues. The psychotherapist will then treat the anxiety in this specialized way. Here at Mindsum, there are psychotherapists that are available to provide support.
It doesn’t mean that one professional is better than the other. All professionals in this field go through intensive training before they begin to practice. Also, many counsellors seek additional training throughout their careers.
There are also doctors and psychiatrists that can be involved in the treatment of anxiety for children and young people. There are more obvious differences between these two professional terms.
Doctors: These are professionals that are trained in medicine. This will likely be the family GP, who might find it necessary to prescribe certain medications that might help the anxiety, especially if the anxiety is quite severe.
Psychiatrist: These are professionals that are also trained in medicine. However, they also specialized in the field of psychiatry. So they are able to provide consultation and medication for a wide range of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar affective disorder and so on.
The journey of recovery from anxiety
The journey of recovery from anxiety can look different for each child or young person, and depending on the approach that the counsellor or psychotherapist uses. But there are some things that are expected when going through therapy for anxiety.
This is an important phase, where the counsellor or psychotherapist will take the opportunity to get a feel of what is going on with the child or young person. The professional might try to identify the type of anxiety that the child or young person is dealing with, along with other important background information. The child, young person and/or their parent will be asked important questions that will allow the professional to create a full picture of what is going on.
These sessions will take place with a time and regularity that suits the child or young person and their parents. An important aspect of the therapy session is the relationship that the counsellor or psychotherapist will build with the child or young person. This will create a safe space that will encourage them to talk about their fears and anxieties. The child will learn skills that they can use against the anxiety when it comes. Lots of work will be done in the therapy room that will help the child to be more confident to face their anxiety.
This can be an important part of treatment for anxiety, especially when having CBT. This is because anxiety is usually experienced in everyday situations in the child or young person’s life. So, homework tasks will really help the child or young person to master their anxiety outside of the therapy room. Parents involved in the treatment process might also be asked to help with the homework. Homework success is then discussed in upcoming therapy sessions.
Progress and setbacks
When having treatment for anxiety, there will be progress and there may also be setbacks. For example, the anxiety might become a bit worse at one point during the treatment. It is important not to feel discouraged if this happens. In fact, this can be very normal in the recovery process from anxiety. These situations provide opportunities to discover new ways to move forward together with the therapist.
The counsellor or psychotherapist will eventually prepare the child, young person and parents for the end of therapy. This is a very important phase, because it is vital for the child or young person to become confident in coping with difficult feelings without relying too much on the professional. The end of therapy will take place once the child or young person has made a lot of progress or has completely recovered from anxiety. The child or young person will leave therapy with many skills that they can use without the help of the therapist.
There might be an agreement with the counsellor or psychotherapist to have a follow-up meeting. This is to check how the child or young person is coping. If the child or young person is doing well, there will be no need for more support. But if they continue to have challenges with their anxiety or any other issues, this will be an opportunity to have extra support.
List of useful resources
To read our information on anxiety, you can click here to access the link.
Introduction to counselling and psychotherapy
The British Association for the Counselling Professions (BACP) have a useful document on different aspects of therapy. To read more, you can click here to access the link.
Anxiety Care UK offers some advice on their website on some practical steps that can be taken when experiencing setbacks with anxiety. You can click here to access the link.