New childhood anxiety treatment program equips parents with tools, plan to help child overcome disorder
Fargo therapist is one of two therapists in ND trained in SPACE program
Mental health has been an important topic of conversation well before the pandemic started two years ago, but it's become even more crucial in the last two years, especially when it comes to childhood mental health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 children have a mental disorder, and a 2020 survey of 3,300 high schoolers revealed that nearly one-third of students felt unhappy or depressed more than usual. Additionally, from March 2020 to October 2020, mental health-related emergency department visits increased 24% from the previous year for children ages 5 to 11 and 31% for kids ages 12 to 17, according to a CDC report cited by the American Psychological Association .
Those numbers are alarming for many parents, but treatment is available, and in Fargo-Moorhead, an important new type may be an option. Kristin Weber is a licensed clinical mental health therapist at Lakeside Center for Behavioral Change in Fargo, and she is one of two providers in the state trained in the SPACE Program.
SPACE stands for Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions, a parent-based program developed at the Yale Child Study Center by Dr. Eli Lebowitz.
SPACE aims to treat children with anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder, although the parents are the ones who attend the therapy sessions.
“The program is just as effective as child-based cognitive behavioral therapy, but it works specifically with parents who are implementing skills and tools at home with the child,” she explained. “We know that for children with clinically significant anxiety, parents are likely accommodating that anxiety in some way at home; parents are modifying their behavior in some way to reduce a child’s distress. All loving parents do this; that is what good parents do. But when your child has diagnosed anxiety, those accommodations can take on a life of their own, and we know that anxiety tends to be much worse when lots of accommodations are being made.”
Weber explained that the program is designed to have therapists work with parents to identify the accommodations being made and develop a plan to address the child’s distress related to the disorder he or she experiences. “The goals of SPACE are to help the parent respond more supportively in response to their child’s anxiety and decrease the accommodations they are making to their child’s symptoms,” she said. “Instead of accommodating the anxiety, parents learn to validate the child’s emotions and offer a vote of confidence in their child’s ability to cope with tough things. It’s like making mac-and-cheese; you need both of those parts to equal support.”
The program was being developed at Yale before the pandemic started, but it has gained national attention through the distinction of involving parents and its success in treating childhood anxiety .
As with any diagnosed illnesses, early intervention is key as is encouraging parents who are working through it.
“Parents come in feeling incredibly overwhelmed, so the goal and hope of treatment is to have them leave feeling empowered with tools and the confidence that they can help their child overcome their anxiety and successfully cope with difficult behaviors and emotions that arise while reducing the accommodations they have been making,” she said. “A key component of SPACE focuses on changes parents can make to their own behavior; they do not need to make their child change. I think that concept is important because often parents are frustrated and tired trying to make their child feel less anxious, and it can feel empowering to focus on the things they can change, like their own behavior.”
Any parents who are concerned that their child may have a mental health disorder is encouraged to talk with a health care provider, school counselor or a therapist. Parents who notice they are spending a good amount of time trying to keep a child from becoming stressed or anxious may benefit from the SPACE program.
To find a list of SPACE-trained providers, visit https://www.spacetreatment.net/space-providers .