Behavioral therapy for children

child psychologist talking girl kid office
The goal of behavioral therapy is to help treat a mental health condition or help children manage their symptoms to improve their functioning at home, school, and in the community. (Photo: Envato Elements)
Many children around the world have to live with different childhood disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Living with such conditions heavily affects the quality of a child’s life and is a major disruption to his daily functioning. اضافة اعلان

Parents will, in such case, try to make the best choice regarding treatment of their child, to help care not only for the physical but for the mental health of the child as well.

Some of the most common treatment plans for different childhood disorders include a combination of medication and behavioral therapy.

Resorting to medication, especially in the case of children, remains a controversial decision, and many parents have reservations about allowing their children to take it to manage their symptoms, mainly due to the side effects. While it is true that medication can help manage symptoms, one of the main arguments against is that as soon as the child stope taking it, or he decides that he no longer wants to take it, which many teenagers do, the benefits stop. This is where behavioral therapy steps in; it helps teach parents different parenting skills and techniques, and teaches children how to improve their behavior.

What is behavioral therapy and how does it work?
The goal of behavioral therapy is to help treat a mental health condition or help children manage their symptoms to improve their functioning at home, school, and in the community.

It is common for child therapy to include the parents in various ways: through the therapist working with the parents alone or with the parent and child together. The therapist might even ask to work with other important adults in the child’s life, such as their teachers.

When the therapy is more parent focused, it usually includes the parents talking to the therapists about their child’s behavior and working on different parenting techniques that can be used to deal with that behavior. Likewise, working with the parents, the therapist often works with the child one-on-one in various ways that can include talking, playing, or any other way that can help the child express his thoughts and feelings. This can also be done in groups, with the therapist working with several children at the same time. Sometimes even a combination of therapies might be more effective in helping the child.

Research in Jordan
Stigma often surrounds the topic of mental health in Jordan, in the Middle East in general. This leads to little being known about the rates of bias, stigma, patient satisfaction, and the effects of psychotherapy in our region. However, there have been some promising studies about the future of mental health treatment in Jordan.

A 2019 study published in the National Library of Medicine investigated the view of hosts and Syrian refugees on psychotherapy in Jordan. Results showed a high overall satisfaction rate with the services provided and the perceived benefits of psychotherapeutic interventions. However, participants in the study showed ambivalence regarding the presence of bias or stigma, which could be a result of the conversation surrounding the topic still not taking place at national level despite the work being done.

Another study published in Counselling Psychology Quarterly focused on testing the feasibility and acceptability of Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) that is implemented by Jordanian counselors working in schools and child protection organizations. The study also aimed to examine the effect of TF-CBT on reducing the PTSD and depressive symptoms on a sample of Jordanian children with a history of abuse. Results of the study indicated a significant possibility of implementing TF-CBT in Jordanian culture, where most of its components where accepted and positively evaluated by children, parents, and counselors. However, the study found that parents agreed that their involvement must be in accordance with the parent’s gender, where mothers should be with their daughters and fathers with their sons. This is due to the limitations of Jordanian culture on having free involvement between parents and children of different genders.

Parent-child interaction therapy
 A common type of therapy centers on parent-child interaction. It aims to help parents learn how to better interact with their child, be able to spot their child’s triggers, and manage his behavior. It also helps improve the bond between the child and parents. In this type of therapy, parents receive on-the-spot coaching from a therapist, usually through an earpiece, who guides them on how to handle their child’s behavior. Studies have shown that this type of therapy, regardless of its length and location, helps significantly reduce parent and child-related stress.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT is one of the most commonly applied type of therapy used by a therapist with a child. Its goal is to teach the child how his thoughts can lead to feelings that affect his behavior. Children learn to identify any harmful and distorted thinking patterns and replace them with healthier ones to help improve their mood and behavior.

CBT is usually the type of therapy used when dealing with a child with PTSD, as it focuses on the traumatic experience that a child has gone through, and works on helping him experience all the appropriate emotions and manage triggers. CBT is also sometime referred to as talk therapy.

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
Usually DBT is used for high-risk cases, such as children or adolescents with suicidal thoughts or ideation. It uses a combination of group and individual therapy that offers and focuses on teaching children different coping strategies, as well as any necessary skills that enable them to handle extreme emotions and conflict.

DBT teaches mindfulness, effectiveness, stress tolerance skills, and emotional regulation. The main difference between DBT and CBT is that DBT focuses more on the relationship between acceptance and change and finding a balance, while CBT focuses on thought patterns and their redirection.

Applied behavioral analysis (ABA)
ABA is a type of interpersonal therapy that focuses on rewarding desirable behaviors to increase their frequency, while simultaneously minimizing unwanted behaviors. It teaches behavior in real-life settings and addresses communication skills, self-management skills, and learning skills in children. It is commonly used as an early form of therapy for children with autism spectrum disorder. Some of the main ABA principles are that behavior is affected by the environment, and that behavior changes are more effective when positive consequences are used rather than negative ones, because behavior is either strengthened or weakened by its consequences.

Play therapy
Play-based intervention utilizes a playroom as a safe space for children to process their feelings and help support their positive change in behavior and attitude, and improve their overall functioning. It allows children to use toys, games, drawings, puppets, and building blocks, which help the therapist observe and identify themes or patters and gain insight into a child’s issues. Sometimes play therapy is more child-centered, in the belief that a child should lead his own healing through exploring the play environment. Play therapy can be very useful for children with behavioral issues such as ODD or conduct disorder.

Family therapy
Therapy can also include the child, the parents and even the siblings, which mainly allows the therapist to observe their interaction and communication patterns, in order to provide the support and education necessary to resolve conflict and improve the family dynamic and function. Usually family therapy can be used to help family members cope if a relative has a serious mental health illness, such as schizophrenia, or even in cases of addiction.

Therapy can have a life-changing impact on a child’s mental health, and can help improve his functioning as well as his ability to cope with stress and develop healthy thinking and behavior patterns. However, it is vital that parents do the research necessary and work with a licensed mental health professional, in order to develop the most suitable treatment plan for the disorder their child is living with.

Fear of stigma and believing that mental disorders can solve themselves or do not require professional intervention will only make the road longer and harder.

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