Youth mental health Some evidence-based mental health therapies for children June 17 2019
Sophia Russell Sophia Russell Writer

There are lots of different ways to manage mental health - here are some evidence-based ones that may help your child.

Any care plan for your child’s mental health should aim to reduce their symptoms, address the things they find difficult, and boost their overall wellbeing. To achieve this, your child’s health professional may recommend a specific therapy as part of their treatment.

There are lots of different types of therapies available in Australia for children and teenagers with mental health issues, many of them with good evidence for their effectiveness. Here are some of the more common evidence-based therapies you might come across. 

Counselling

Counselling is a ‘talking therapy’, which is a way of addressing problems by talking to a professional trained in mental health. A counsellor can help your child understand their emotions, make decisions, solve problems and find ways of coping with situations like friendship fallouts, family tensions or low self-esteem. 

Your child can speak to a counsellor without a referral from your GP. Getting in touch with their school counsellor is often a simple place to start.

Psychotherapy

Like counselling, psychotherapy is a talking therapy that can help someone understand their feelings, solve problems and change negative thought patterns. The main difference between both therapies is that counselling is generally more concerned with present issues, while psychotherapy tends to be a long-term treatment that more intensively examines a child’s psychological history.

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behaviour therapy is a structured therapy that equips people with strategies to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours. When children undergo this therapy, they work with a professional to identify negative thoughts they may have about themselves or the world, then consciously replace those thoughts with new ones that improve the way they feel and behave. 

CBT can be used to treat depression and anxiety in children and teenagers.

Behaviour therapy

Behaviour therapy is a part of CBT, but also exists as a separate therapy. Instead of attempting to directly change someone’s thoughts, it focuses on encouraging positive behaviours that provide a sense of satisfaction, with the aim of reversing behaviours that make anxiety or depression worse.

It can also help your child develop skills to cope better with situations they find difficult. The health professional helps them recognise the connection between their mood and behaviours such as avoidance, withdrawal or worry, with the aim of re-engaging them in activities of daily life.
 
A boy looking concerned

Family therapy

Close relationships often play a major role in helping someone improve their mental health. With this in mind, family therapy works with a child’s closest support network – their family – to help members find ways to support the child who is struggling. 

It can also equip family members with tools and strategies to help them improve communication, reduce conflict and solve problems.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)

There is now more research into whether mindfulness is beneficial for teenagers and children with mental health issues. 

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy teaches kids to do repetitive mindfulness exercises, such as visualisation and breathing exercises, in an age-appropriate way. It can help children cope with stress by teaching them to stay in touch in the present moment, instead of worrying about the future.

Medication

If your child has a mental health disorder, they may be prescribed medication by their GP, psychiatrist or paediatrician. Your child’s doctor will usually prescribe medication as part of a wider mental health care plan that may include other therapies, lifestyle changes and social support. 

Some medications can have side effects, so speak to your child’s doctor if you have any concerns.

E-therapies

Certain therapies, such as CBT or behaviour therapy, can be completed online – especially by older kids and teenagers. Some online programs include support from a health professional through phone, text, email or instant messaging; others are self-driven programs that may suit those with mild mental health issues. It’s often best to pursue an online program at the recommendation of your child’s health professional, or as part of their mental health care plan.
A girl on her laptop

Interpersonal therapy (IPT)

Interpersonal therapy is based on the idea that the way you feel is connected to your relationships with other people. For example, a child or teenager going through depression may withdraw from their parent, which causes a rift in the relationship. This can make them feel worse and withdraw even further, creating a vicious cycle.

To encourage healthy relationships that support good mental health, IPT helps people identify how they are feeling and behaving in their relationships, and put strategies in place to improve those interactions. 

What about alternative therapies?

Alternative therapies for mental health – for example, herbal supplements, restricted diets, homeopathy, hypnotherapy – have been around for a while. Although some are growing in popularity, there is still very little scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of these therapies. Some are also potentially dangerous and may adversely interact with medications, so check with your child’s doctor before trying an alternative treatment.

It’s also worth considering the ‘opportunity cost’ of pursuing alternate therapies before giving evidence-based ones a go. When it comes to mental health issues, early intervention is key. It’s worth pursuing evidence-based treatments as a first point of call, especially those that have been recommended by your child’s health professional.

Need further information?

If you’d like to chat to someone about the mental health therapies that are available for children or teenagers, we offer a 24/7 nationwide telephone support service to Bupa Health Insurance members who have an active Hospital product that covers themselves and their children. Access our Mental Health Navigation Service simply by calling 1300 136 764. To find out more, visit our Bupa Mental Health Navigation page. 

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Sophia Russell Sophia Russell Writer Sophia Russell is a former journalist turned freelance writer. She writes about health, parenting, relationships, work life balance, pop culture and what makes people tick.