Fears are common in childhood, and tend to be transient, resolving spontaneously over the course of the very process known as cognitive maturation, there are complex forms. Certain symptoms that go beyond this can also be produced or set in motion at an early age: those that make up the idea of phobia.
Phobias can consume someone's personality, gradually absorbing him or her and even preventing the affected person from spending his or her days in a healthy and safe manner, in short, with peace of mind. They are more frequent in adults, but the great majority begin in childhood, being a risk factor for the development of future psychopathological conditions.
Having said that, I am sure you are thinking of some of the most common phobias, such as those of spiders, snakes, heights, enclosed spaces or the dentist, but it could be said that there are as many phobias as there are people. As many phobias as there are children. Now, a study recently published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, shares what could be a new approach to prevent this from happening with surprising data on the very ability of little ones when it comes to coping with something.
Just one session
Researchers from the University of York and the University of Sheffield in the United States worked for 5 years with 260 children in 27 mental health services. The team of experts was looking for solutions to childhood phobias, nothing new, but the objective was: to understand whether it would be possible to treat them in a single three-hour session. To date, several sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) were needed to reduce the usual symptoms.
The three most common phobias of the participating children were: fear of animals, fear of vomiting and fear of blood, wounds and injections. With all of these as a basis, they began treatment sessions, including so-called exposure therapy. In this way they found the possibility to improve the quality of life of all of them much earlier.
The clearest example was the case of a child who was afraid of dogs. In his first session, the therapist instructed him to look at a dog through a window. When the child became ‘bored' with this, the therapist would teach him to control his emotions while opening the door to gradually approach the dog. The child succeeded in just 3 hours.
With boredom as an ally
Professor Lina Gega, director of the York Mental Health Research Institute and lead author of the research, explains that their method is based “on the premise that the opposite of fear is boredom, and children can get bored quite quickly with a repeated activity.” Thus, with that one session, the researchers were able to reduce not only the child's phobias, but those of most of the children treated.
With the current system of therapy, the child may experience anxiety every week before the session, which is an intrusion into his or her life and a huge cost for many families.
As Gega points out, there are a number of problems with the current approach to treating children's phobias with multiple therapy sessions: the child may experience anxiety every week before each session, which is not pleasant for the process or for the child's growth. These sessions often probe into the child's life, becoming a kind of constant intrusion into the child's privacy. On top of that, they are often costly for the family, one of the various limitations that keep many children out of the system.
“We often find that with multiple sessions, the dropout rate from treatment is high, so now that we know that just one three-hour session can be just as effective in children, it could open up new opportunities for clinical services to reduce waiting lists, resolve barriers to attendance and save money,” Gega adds in this regard.
Resolving a phobia faster has more benefits than might appear at first glance. The study highlights the fact that severe phobias can often be linked to other conditions such as ADHD and depression. Therefore, it is possible that resolving the phobia more quickly will allow clinicians to identify other problems and better support their patients.
Fears are common in childhood, and tend to be transient, resolving spontaneously over the course of the very process known as cognitive maturation, there are complex forms. Certain symptoms that go beyond this can also occur or set in motion at an early age: those that shape the idea of phobia.