Fighting childhood anxieties with apps

An international research team wants to find an early, one-off treatment against specific anxieties in children. The therapy includes a personalized app, which helps patients to independently approach the factors that cause anxiety.

An option for easily accessible intervention without stigmatization

In a new project, an international research team wants to find out how effective an early, one-off treatment can be against specific anxieties in children. The therapy concept includes a personalized app, which helps the patients to independently approach the factors that cause anxiety.

The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development supports the project with the title "Early intervention and treatment prediction in childhood specific phobias: combining One-Session-Treatment with app-based technology".

Dr. Anke Klein, the psychologist at the Ruhr-Universit├Ąt Bochum (RUB) and Universiteit Leiden, coordinates the project, in which Prof. Dr. Silvia Schneider, head of the RUB Chair of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, as well as other partners from the Netherlands, Australia, and the USA are involved. The kickoff meeting for the project took place on July 15, 2019, in Bochum, Germany, where leading international children's anxiety researchers gathered for a symposium.

Therapy session and app

The study will involve 168 children aged between 6 and 13 years who will be treated in four psychotherapeutic centers in Germany and the Netherlands. The treatment consists of a three-hour one-session treatment and a four-week home exercise. The children learn to face their fears in the presence of their parents. After the first session, half of the patients receive a personalized app adapted to their gender, age, and type of anxiety. Among other things, it contains short film sequences of the therapy session, which enables the children to look back on the successes achieved during the session and to encourage themselves through these short film records.

Before and after the treatments, the scientists will assess the level of anxiety in order to compare the effectiveness of the intervention with and without apps.

"Our study is the next step in developing a short, affordable and effective therapy for children who suffer from anxiety or are at high risk of developing anxiety," said project leader Anke Klein.

Childhood phobias increase the risk of other diseases

An estimated ten percent of all childhood humans suffer from a pronounced fear of a special object, for example, darkness or certain animals such as spiders or dogs. The specific phobia is, therefore, the most common mental disorder in children; it is associated with an increased risk of other life-long disorders such as panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder or depression.

"We, therefore, need an easily accessible intervention for children that does not stigmatize and helps both parents and children to control themselves," said Silvia Schneider, head of the Centre for Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy. The Bochum Centre will, therefore, play a leading role in coordination and recruitment.