Emotional well-being in educational policy and practice aims to teach children and young people how to deal with their emotions in everyday life. Although you may not be aware of this, an increasing number of different emotional disorders are diagnosed in children. About 15% of these cases are fear-related.
Our ever-increasing pace of life, school demands, domestic stress and genetic predisposition to emotional disorders are just a few of the factors that can contribute to the development of mental illness. Hence, there are many different treatment approaches to addressing these problems.
Until now, it has been common practice to use cognitive behavioral therapies to treat specific disorders. For example, if depression was diagnosed in childhood, psychology often used the PEAC Méndez program or Stark ACTION.
However, there is currently a far greater interest in treating various mental disorders in a transversal manner. The reason for this approach is the fact that many of these disorders ultimately have a common root cause. For adult patients, for example, Norton’s transdiagnostic cognitive behavioral therapy or Barlow’s standardized protocol are available.
The goal of both programs is to identify factors that are common to various emotional disorders (anxiety disorders, depression, somatotrophic disorders, etc.). The patient can discuss these factors with their therapist, who then selects the most effective and appropriate techniques and treatment strategies.
The good news is that this practice is now also being used in child psychology. Therefore, programs such as emotional wellbeing are currently being tested in educational policy and practice.
Emotional well-being in educational policy and practice: characteristics
Jill Ehrenreich, a psychologist at the University of Miami and director of the Treatment Program for Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents, has developed and successfully tested an innovative program for treating emotional problems in children: the unified protocol for transdiagnostic treatment of emotional disorders in children and adolescents Adolescents.
The basis for the development of this protocol is, among other things, the fact that the dividing line between the different disorders is very narrow, even in children. As in adults, anxiety disorders and depression are often comorbid disorders.
In children who received this treatment, according to a study published in the journal for cognitive and behavioral practice , the severity of anxiety disorders and depression decreased significantly.
The main goal of this intervention is to identify each patient’s weaknesses. A plan is then created to prevent these from becoming insurmountable obstacles to solving problems. Therefore , this novel treatment approach includes not only cognitive techniques but also effective behavioral strategies.
The main pillars of this treatment for emotional wellbeing in children and adolescents are as follows:
- Education about emotions. The children learn to identify emotions and understand what role they play.
- Dealing with emotions. Patients learn the relationship between thoughts, emotions and behavior. In addition, it is explained to them how an intervention in one of the three aspects affects the other areas.
- Problem solving skills. The problem-solving techniques of D’Zurilla and Goldfried are used for young children.
- Strategies for evaluating situations. Patients learn how to recognize whether a situation is aversive, neutral, or positive.
- Parent training. Sometimes the children’s problems are also due to the attitudes of the parents, especially when it is negative reinforcement. Therefore, the role model role that parents have is crucial in controlling this variable.
- Behavior activation. This is a classic strategy used in the treatment of depression. Therefore, it pursues the goal of increasing the positive reinforcement of a person in their environment.
Studies on this therapy
The researchers conducted a study with 22 children aged 7 to 12 years. Each participating child had a primary diagnosis of anxiety disorder. In addition, all children were diagnosed with secondary depression.
For a total of 15 weeks, the study participants took part in group therapy for emotional well-being once a week. The results were as follows: 14 of the 18 children who completed the program no longer met the criteria for an anxiety disorder. In addition, only one of the five children who had a depressive disorder prior to treatment continued to meet these criteria after the program.
One of the most surprising results was improvement in comorbid depression and anxiety disorder. Depression usually makes treatment slower or more difficult if another psychiatric disorder is also present. Since most therapies are not designed to treat multiple emotional problems at the same time, this is a very common problem.
The researchers’ hypothesis, based on Peter Norton’s findings, was that if they treated the main disorder from a broader perspective that included appropriate strategies for depression, it would also improve the depression. Norton emphasizes that the key is to find the common root cause that lies behind all problems. In addition, one must get rid of “artificial distinctions”.