Cognitive Therapy for children with Behavioral and Emotional Disorders
Children and adolescents are different from adults in many ways but the primary difference is that the younger person does not have as much actual control of his or her life as does an adult.
The treatment of mental illness for a child must therefore be different than the treatment for an adult.
Cognitive therapy is a scientifically proven method of treatment that works for younger patients as effectively as it does for adults in the treatment of the anxiety disorders as well as such disorders as conduct disorder, depression, and physical complaints that are not caused by an actual physical condition. Cognitive therapy is actually most often used in conjunction with behavioral therapy when used with children and most often is aimed at trying to break the circle of emotion – thought – behavior that is thought to cause most of the symptomology that the therapy is intended to ameliorate. The idea is that a person feels an emotion which leads to a thought that is uncomfortable which in turn leads to a behavior that makes the feeling better, but the feeling is then affected by the behavior so that it leads to another uncomfortable thought which leads to another and possibly even more inappropriate behavior which leads to another feeling and so on. Cognitive therapy is an attempt to change the thought into a more realistic and helpful one thus breaking the circle.
In treating children there are stressors that are not usually present for adults generally related to education. A child might have unrealistic goals that are reinforced by adults in his or her life: perfection as the only acceptable outcome is a primary one. When perfection is the only goal then failure will be the most usual experience for a child and failure is a very unhappy thing indeed. In order to avoid the bad feelings and thought engendered by failure the child acts out by being bad in some way and sometimes finds that he or she can be perfectly bad which feels like a success, and success leads to further acting out. Breaking the cycle by making trial and error an acceptable outcome, a success, takes the onus of failure away and can lead to a change in behavior by the redefinition of success.
With children and adolescents cognitive therapy is focused on breaking the circle at the thought phase. Having the child focus on the thought and bringing that step in the cycle come more under his or her control can help him or her to see the fallacies in the thoughts and thus repair his or her behavior to the reality of the situation rather than continue in the avoidance behaviors that are inappropriate. In hundreds if studies, cognitive therapy has been shown to be quite effective.