Teens Respond Well to Multiple School-Based Anxiety Intervention Programs

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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  • Invisible Fire

    Invisible Fire

    May 23rd, 2013 at 9:23 PM

    Different techniques may lead to different results.Some may be more effective or quicker than others?But are the quickest ones the best?No really if you ask me.Whats best depends on the psychology of each person and while one technique may not be the quickest it may well be the best suited to some people.What do the experts have to say about this?

  • Leo


    May 23rd, 2013 at 11:42 PM

    Being a teen-ager is so hard. At least that’s how it looks to me. I am 51 so it’s been a long time for me. But it seems harder these days. I am glad to hear there is help for teen-agers in school.

  • Deborah


    May 23rd, 2013 at 11:43 PM

    Biology+social=NO JOKE! :0)

  • georgia


    May 23rd, 2013 at 11:46 PM

    my daughter started gettin real nervous right after second grade
    that summer she said she felt like she was in a giant black hole and couldn’t get out
    thank the lord i knew enough that that wasn’t norml
    so i got her to the doctor
    she’s 14 now and it’s still touch and go sometimes
    it’s hard to tell what is just normal teenage stuff and what is not normal
    i just pray for her every day
    i hear aobut teen suicides and just pray that is not what happens
    i couldn’t stand losing her
    even though she drives me crazy sometimes

  • Hamilton


    May 23rd, 2013 at 11:48 PM

    It is so true-the anxiety can definitely make a big difference with grades when my son was younger he was the best student. But then he started having these kind of problems you’re talking about the next thing I know his grades are starting to fall. When I took him to therapy they explained it all to me and it made so much sense to tell you the truth he was getting in a lot of trouble for his grades but when I realized it wasn’t his fault things got a lot better for both of us. Now since he’s been to therapy for aobut a year his grades are getting better.

  • Tilly


    May 23rd, 2013 at 11:51 PM

    Ya know my dad has always been real socially awkward. He does okay but he stutters so bad. And ya want to know another thing about him?
    He drinks like a fish. Yep that’s right. He can drink a 6 pack of beer like nobody’s business.
    If ya want to know what I think, I think he’s self-medicating. I think he drinks al that alcohol so that he can calm himself down enough in order to interact with people.

  • Rosco


    May 23rd, 2013 at 11:54 PM

    I think I need help with this. Like real bad. You know like I really don’t ever want to leave my house. It is so hard for me. To even like go to the grocery store. I even drink powdered milk just so I don’t have to go as often. I wish there was a more definite answer about like which thing works best. I think I’d do it then.

  • Eva N

    Eva N

    May 23rd, 2013 at 11:56 PM

    Sounds like a nice long study. Too bad the results weren’t more helpful.

  • norton


    May 23rd, 2013 at 11:58 PM

    You had me til here:

    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.”

    Then I had no idea what you were saying.

  • Edwin


    May 24th, 2013 at 12:01 AM

    Well here’s the thing about testing adolescents. First of all, the age matters. Are you talking 13 year olds or 18 year olds? And, did each of the adolescents really follow through with all of the work they were assigned? I would assume that either the subjects either had additional school work to complete when not at school (aka homework) or it was summer break. Under either circumstance, I would think motivation to comply with the “training” may not have been that high.

  • stella


    May 24th, 2013 at 12:04 AM

    One thing that helped my anxiety more than anything else: exercise. It was like I had to get those negative feelings physically out of my body.I tried other types of therapies and interventions, but I always ended up going back to exercise. I guess sometimes I had to get into my own head in order to get out of it.

  • Josie y

    Josie y

    May 24th, 2013 at 4:05 AM

    Putting programs such as this one makes them more accessible and I also think that it probably creates them on a level that students can respond well to. They are devised to fit into a format that the students are comfortable with, and if this helps only a handful, I think that with some tweaks it can be made even more inviting for more students.

  • Georgia


    May 25th, 2013 at 12:03 AM

    You know how hard it is to even fit in when everybody around you is all about what’s the latest trends and things in popular culture and you’re just not into it??

    That happened to me a decade ago. I mean is it wrong to not be involved in the latest music and fashion?Is it wrong to have interests different than most ‘sheep’??

    Truth is – if you are like that chances are that you may well be a social outcast in highschool. Sad but true.

  • Janna


    May 26th, 2013 at 5:34 AM

    If there is something out there that is working then by all means we have to give it a try. Teens are so sensitive and vulnerable to what others are saying and doing, and if this is causing the least bit of anxiety that would definitely be something to look into geting under control NOW. Much easier to try new strategies and teach them things when they are young over when they are adults and they have established patterns of behavior that are harder to break.

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