The first day of school can be a stressful event no matter how old you are or where you go to school. That stress becomes a potential problem when it persists throughout the school year and causes problems in other facets of a child's life, such as difficulty sleeping. But going about helping children with an anxiety disorder might be easier than you think. A new study from The Lancet Psychiatry shows that classroom-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) reduces anxiety in children. This information could be appropriate for funding school-based CBT programs, which would help students disassociate school with anxiety and improve overall quality of life.

Testing CBT in a Classroom Setting

Researchers used a process called Preventing Anxiety in Children through Education in Schools (PACES), which is a three-group parallel cluster, randomized and controlled trial. Junior schools in southwest England were eligible and invited to participate in the study. Forty-five schools enrolled, 14 of which were assigned the school-led CBT program, 14 to a health-led CBT program, and 12 to a control group that was instructed to continue a normal routine. CBT assigned schools underwent nine 60-minute weekly sessions. Symptoms of anxiety and low mood were assessed by the Revised Child Anxiety and Depression Scale.

Of the three categories, the most improvement was made in the health-led CBT program. However, noticeable improvements were also reached by the school-led CBT program. This means that CBT can be somewhat effective, even if it is not administered by a healthcare professional.

What it Means for Anxiety in an Academic Setting

Because of the social and academic factors that go into every school day, school can be a major trigger of anxiety in a child. This anxiety can cause children to attempt to avoid going to school, cause behavioral changes, and completely alter a child's demeanor. Overcoming this anxiety takes more than many school administrators or parents can offer; it often involves CBT administered by a trained professional. Diagnosing an anxiety disorder or mental illness in a child is the first step to recovery.

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Paul Stallard, Elena Skryabina, Gordon Taylor, Rhiannon Phillips, Harry Daniels, Rob Anderson, Neil Simpson. Classroom-based cognitive behaviour therapy (FRIENDS): a cluster randomised controlled trial to Prevent Anxiety in Children through Education in Schools (PACES). The Lancet Psychiatry, August 2014. DOI: 10.1016/S2215-0366(14)70244-5

Date of original publication:

Updated: August 27, 2016