Exposure Therapy for Kids


MIAMI, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Fear and anxiety … these types of emotional disorders don’t only affect adults, children deal with these feelings too. See how a type of therapy is being studied to help kids overcome their worst fears.

“When I saw a dog, I thought he was going to jump on me,” Zoey Deas told Ivanhoe.

Zoey’s mom said it got so bad her daughter would cross the street to avoid coming near a dog.

“Nothing is worse for a mother than to see your daughter or any child to feel that afraid,” Nikki Deas, Zoey’s mom, said.

Experts say certain stressors can cause fear, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive behaviors in a child or teen.

“The child starts to avoid things that are provoking that sense of distress,” said Jill Ehrenreich-May, PhD, Assoc. Professor of Psychology and Director of Child and Adolescent Mood & Anxiety Treatment Program at University of Miami.

Ehrenreich-May says parents tend to help kids avoid those triggers – creating a habit.

“Let’s cross the street, let’s move away from it, let’s not get yourself upset about this,” continued Dr. Ehrenreich-May.

So she’s leading a study at the University of Miami investigating whether exposure therapy can help children with emotional disorders.

Dr. Ehrenreich-May shared, “Moving toward and experiencing uncomfortable emotions instead of avoiding or moving away from them.”

Zoey met with a therapist to talk about her fear. Then she was gradually introduced to pictures and videos of dogs before meeting the real thing.

“At first, Zoey would watch a dog from another room, and slowly then she became into the room,” Nikki said.

After eight sessions this was the result! Zoey was able to play with Bowser without any fear or anxiety.

“He was sitting on my lap, I fed him treats, I was playing with him,” Zoey said smiling.

The doctor says parents can practice exposure therapy at home, but advises you have to be very positive and patient with your child. The study funded by the national institutes of health is also training more therapists about this form of cognitive behavioral therapy. For more information please visit https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/nct02567266.

Contributors to this news report include: Janna Ross, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; and Judy Reich, Videographer.

Free weekly e-mail on Medical Breakthroughs from Ivanhoe. To sign up: http://www.ivanhoe.com/ftk

REPORT #2593

BACKGROUND: Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older. They are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.

People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events. It’s a normal part of life to experience occasional anxiety. But you may experience anxiety that is persistent, seemingly uncontrollable, and overwhelming. If it’s an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations, it can be disabling. When anxiety interferes with daily activities, you may have an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are real, serious medical conditions. The term “anxiety disorder” refers to specific psychiatric disorders that involve extreme fear or worry, and includes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD),  panic disorder and panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety, and specific phobias.

(Source: https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics and https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety)

WHY EXPOSURE THERAPY?: Exposure therapy is defined as any treatment that encourages the systematic confrontation of feared stimuli, which can be external (feared objects, activities, situations) or internal (feared thoughts, physical sensations). The aim of exposure therapy is to reduce the person’s fearful reaction to the stimulus. It has been shown to be the most effective anxiety treatment for people with many anxiety disorders. It involves practicing with what you fear in order to become less afraid. But how does it work? Well, exposure therapy helps you retrain your brain. It’s not just about “getting used to” the fear. It’s about retraining your brain to stop sending the fear signal when there isn’t any danger. People struggle against anxiety attacks and phobias because they recognize that their fears are exaggerated and illogical. They try hard to talk themselves out of the fear. But that doesn’t help. So they end up trying to avoid the fear, and that, unfortunately, just strengthens it. Exposure therapy helps you retrain your brain to let go of phobias, anxiety attacks, and other forms of anxiety disorders.

(Source: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/anxiety/exposure-therapy-anxiety-disorders and https://www.anxietycoach.com/exposuretherapy.html)

WHO BENEFITS FROM EXPOSURE THERAPY?: Exposure therapy can be an effective treatment for PTSD, but works for only about half of patients. It involves gradually exposing someone greatly affected by severe stress to the things or situations that they fear in a safe environment. This approach provides patients with a chance to reinterpret fearful triggers and has the effect of decreasing fear and avoidance. The new findings suggest that the success of such therapy may depend on the strength of brain networks underlying how an individual recognizes and processes frightening stimuli. In the study, led by Amit Etkin, MD, PhD, of Stanford University, 66 people with PTSD completed tasks requiring them to regulate their emotions. For example, one task involved ignoring emotions triggered by fearful faces and instead identifying the artificial tint of the picture. In another task, the participants were instructed to try to reduce their emotional response by interpreting a negative emotional scene differently. As the participants completed the tasks, brain scans tracked how their brains responded to and dealt with the emotionally charged images. These findings suggest that low reactivity to fearful cues and better ability to engage emotion-regulating brain areas are two factors that make an individual more likely to improve with therapy.

(Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brain-and-behavior/201802/who-benefits-exposure-therapy)

* For More Information, Contact:

Megan Ondrizek, PR


(305) 284-3667