Adolescents are vulnerable to various psychological conditions, partly because of the biological changes occurring to them, but also because of the emotional and social changes they experience. Social anxiety (SAD) usually firsts manifests during adolescence and, if untreated, can put teens at risk for significant mental health challenges in adulthood. They can have problems socially, with interpersonal relationships, academically, and professionally as a result of SAD. It can also increase the risk of other mental health issues such as depression, low self-esteem, other anxiety problems, and even substance abuse. The need for early intervention and identification of anxiety is apparent. But existing methods have provided mixed results.
B. Esther Sportel of the Department of Psychiatry at the University Medical Center Groningen at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands wanted to test two separate methods of anxiety intervention to determine their short-term and long-term efficacy. In a recent study, Sportel compared a cognitive based therapy (CBT) approach to a cognitive bias method (CBM) delivered via the internet. The CBT consisted of 84 adolescent students and included 10 sessions and homework. The CBM condition included 86 students and had 20 sessions conducted at home over the internet. The progress of these students was compared to a control group of 70 students at six and 12 months after the interventions were completed.
Sportel discovered that both CBM and CBT improved the anxiety of the students in unique ways. The students in the CBT condition had lower SAD at six months follow-up, but the decrease was equal to the students in CBM at 12 months. Immediate decreases in test anxiety were found in the students who participated in the CBT, but not in the CBM group. Surprisingly, at 12 months, overall symptoms of anxiety decreased similarly for all three conditions, including the control participants.
The most significant finding was that threat-related bias was reduced the most among the CBM participants. Sportel said, “This seems especially relevant in light of earlier findings showing that this type of automatic associations have prognostic value for the future onset and unfavorable course of anxiety disorders.” She hopes that future work provides additional support for the utility of CBM interventions for adolescents.
Sportel, B.E., de Hullu, E., de Jong, P.J., Nauta, M.H. (2013). Cognitive Bias Modification versus CBT in Reducing Adolescent Social Anxiety: A Randomized Controlled Trial. PLoS ONE 8(5): e64355. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064355
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