Psychotherapy + Medication Found to be Most Effective in Treating Childhood Anxiety

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Dara Sakolsky, M.D., Ph.D., expert in anxiety research
Dara Sakolsky, M.D., Ph.D.

Anxiety disorders may be the most common childhood-onset psychiatric illnesses, and without proper intervention, their symptoms can persist throughout adulthood. In the largest multi-site clinical trial to study childhood anxiety to date, Dara Sakolsky, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of  Pittsburgh, is using her 2008 NARSAD Young Investigator Grant to help evaluate the effectiveness of different treatments for children diagnosed with separation, generalized or social anxiety disorder.

The trial is the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Child-Adolescent Anxiety Multimodal Study (CAMS) and the investigators are comparing the effectiveness of three current methods of  treatment: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a specific type of psychotherapy; the medication sertraline (Zoloft®), an antidepressant of the class called serotonin selective re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs); and a combination approach consisting of both CBT and medication. Four hundred children were evaluated.

The outcomes at 24 weeks and 36 weeks, published in the March issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, demonstrate that for the majority of children, combined psychotherapy (CBT) with medication (sertraline) is most effective. These effects were maintained at both weeks 24 and 36.

Among other members of the CAMS team are Foundation Scientific Council member John March, M.D., M.P.H., of Duke University, and Boris Birmaher, M.D., of the University of Pittsburgh, recipient of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation 2013 Colvin Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Mood Disorders Research, presented by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.

Read the paper abstract.

Read about Dr. John March’s earlier groundbreaking findings on treating disorders in childhood.

Article comments

Has there been any more research regarding viruses that attack the frontal lobe of the brain where anxiety lives? My 12 yr old came down w/severe ocd almost overnight, we did many things to try and help him, the neurofeedback showed the frontal lobe was riddled with anxiety, nothing has ever truly helped. That was 5 years ago, and the only thing that did give him his life back was Exposure Response Therapy, a six week intensive stay at St. Louis University's Behavioral Clinic.

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