Well Worth It: CBT for Depressed Teens

Here’s a nice alternative and effective intervention for teens exhibiting early signs of depression – cognitive behavioral therapy. There’s a lot to like in this study, and its results. Cognitive behavioral therapy is different from what most of think of as “therapy” – CBT is focused on coping strategies, and changing both your thinking and your response to situations. It’s also unlike traditional psychotherapy in that CBT is a defined, limited course that you take – not an endless series of one-on-one visits that many of us, frankly, can’t afford indefinitely. The question this study set out to

Teen´s quintessence
Image by Pulpolux !!! via Flickr

answer: Is there anything a parent can do to prevent depression? What’s a parent to do for the kid who seems down, perhaps caught in a negative spiral, but not (yet) clinically depressed? The answer: CBT is an effective first step for many.

CBT in this study “consisted of eight weekly 90-minute group sessions followed by six monthly 90-minute sessions. The sessions were led by a therapist who taught problem-solving skills and other strategies designed to help the teens recognize and change unrealistic and overly negative thinking.” So how effective was this focused, time-limited intervention?

As WebMD reports: ”

Compared to participants who did not get this intervention:

  • Those who did were less likely to develop depression during the course of the study, with about one in five (21%) experiencing new depressive episodes compared to one in three (33%).
  • The impact of the intervention was most dramatic in adolescents who did not have a parent who was depressed at the time, with 12% of these teens developing depression vs. 40% of teens who did not go through the program.
  • The researchers estimated that the intervention prevented one episode of depression for every nine teens treated — a risk reduction similar to that which has been reported for antidepressants.

That’s a big positive, with great results for an intervention that has absolutely no side effects, other than cost and time.

There was one big down side to the results: “Having a parent who was actively depressed at the start of the study significantly reduced the effectiveness of the intervention, lead researcher Judy Garber, PhD, tells WebMD. ‘It may be that there is more conflict at home or that the parent is just too depressed to help them or it may be a marker of greater genetic vulnerability,’ she says.”

Given the relatively steep price for even time-limited, group CBT, some of us might be wondering – couldn’t we teach our kids this ourself? The Doc Gurley bias here is that 1) when it comes to my kid’s health/mind, I want the best if I can stretch and afford it – licensed CBT therapists are experienced and highly-trained professionals for a reason; and 2) when anyone’s kids get to a certain age, tweens and teens need more good adults in their lives – and, at a certain age for each kid, some things they just can’t hear when it’s coming from their parents – or, if they can still hear “it” from you, hearing it from more than one source may increase your effectiveness. A good CBT therapist is a god-send.

Take Home Message: Sometimes it’s worth the price to get effective help for your teen who seems to be struggling. Your biggest challenge, unfortunately, may be finding a licensed CBT practitioner for teens in your area. But the results appear to indicate that, for most teens, finding one would be Well Worth the effort!

Been through this family challenge yourself? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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