Revolutionary Three-Hour Therapy Session Helps Children Overcome Fears

Revolutionary Three-Hour Therapy Session Helps Children Overcome Fears

(IN BRIEF) A study conducted by researchers at the University of York and University of Sheffield found that common childhood phobias, such as fear of spiders, dogs, and needles, could be resolved in a single three-hour therapy session instead of the several sessions that is current practice. The study worked with 260 children across 27 UK mental health services and compared the success rate and cost of traditional multi-session Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to a one session lasting three hours. The results showed that the single session reduced the child’s phobias and resolved them at the same success rate as multiple sessions. This finding could open new opportunities for clinical services to reduce waiting lists and save money.

(PRESS RELEASE) YORK, 6-Feb-2023 — /EuropaWire/ —  University of York, a collegiate research university, announces a groundbreaking study conducted by its researchers in collaboration with the University of Sheffield has uncovered a more efficient and cost-effective method for treating severe phobias in children. The current practice of offering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as one-hour weekly sessions over a period of 4 to 12 weeks has proven costly for the National Health Service (NHS) and disruptive to children’s daily lives.

The five-year project worked with 260 children across 27 UK mental health services and found that the most common phobias, including fear of animals, vomit, and blood, injury and injections, could be effectively treated in a single three-hour therapy session. The researchers compared the success rate and cost of the traditional multi-session CBT method with a modified three-hour session and found that both methods had the same success rate.

The three-hour session utilized graded exposure therapy, which slowly exposes the child to their fear in a controlled environment. For example, if a child has a fear of dogs, they would first see a dog from a distance and gradually work their way closer. The researchers found that the boredom principle, which states that the opposite of fear is boredom, played a crucial role in resolving the phobias.

According to Professor Lina Gega, Director of the Institute of Mental Health Research at York, the single three-hour session reduced a child’s phobias and in most cases resolved them, with a low drop-out rate. The study acknowledged that severe phobias can often coexist with other health conditions, such as ADHD and depression, and that once a phobia is treated, other forms of therapy may still be necessary.

This new approach could open up new opportunities for clinical services to reduce waiting lists, resolve attendance barriers, and save money for the NHS. The study’s findings have the potential to transform the way severe childhood phobias are treated and improve the lives of countless children.

Professor Gega said: “Fears are actually a very rational part of what it means to be human; fears can protect us from getting hurt. It is only when these fears start to prevent us from doing things in daily life that they can become a clinical issue.

“You can imagine, however, how liberating it is for a child and a parent that after just one therapy session they are able to go to the park without fear of dogs, or go out to eat food with their friends without fear of getting sick, or able to get vaccines that can be life-saving.

“The next stage of this work is to disseminate our findings more widely among health professionals and offer support in how to adapt weeks if not months of CBT into  a single condensed session, with the hope that this can become a standard treatment option for children with phobias.”

Further information:

The research funded by the NIHR Health Technology Assessment Programme, supported by the NIHR, is published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Listen to Professor Lina Gega talk about the research on BBC Sounds.

For more information about the University’s work in mental health visit our Institute of Mental Health Research website. Research at the Institute aims to improve the lives and care of people affected by mental health difficulties, and mitigate the impact on individuals, families, the NHS, the workplace and whole communities.

Media contact:

Samantha Martin
Deputy Head of Media Relations
Tel: work+44 (0)1904 322029

SOURCE: University of York


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