Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Children

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 09, 2021

Behavioral disorders and mental health issues affect the overall health of a child. Children with behavioral or mental health disorders may struggle with communicating, forming relationships, and performing well in school.

If not addressed in the early stages, these disorders can disturb the child's life. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for children is a short-term treatment for mental and behavioral disorders. But it has a long-term impact on a child's development. 

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive behavioral therapy not only benefits children and adolescents but also focuses on educating teachers and parents to help children overcome mental health and behavioral problems. 

CBT usually takes about six to 20 sessions. It is different from other behavioral therapies because it considers how the child’s or adolescent's emotions, thoughts, and behaviors affect each other. The therapist can address each one as needed.

What Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Treat?

Behavioral professionals use cognitive behavioral therapy to treat many psychological problems in children and adolescents, including:

  • Anxiety disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Depression
  • Low confidence
  • Irrational fears
  • Hypochondria — continuous fear of getting ill 
  • Drug use, smoking, or drinking 
  • Gambling addiction 
  • Appetite disorders — increased or decreased hunger
  • Insomnia — having difficulties falling asleep at night
  • Relationship problems

Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on transforming negative thoughts into positive and realistic ones. It also focuses on changing behaviors that result from negative thinking.

What Are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Types?

Some cognitive behavioral therapy types are:

Individual Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Working one-on-one with the patient, the therapist focuses on improving the child's skills to overcome their negative thoughts and overcome their fears. This type of CBT is considered most effective as the therapist works with the child directly. 

Individual CBT is ideal for treating anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

Group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

In this CBT type, the therapist works with a group of children and adolescents who have similar disorders. These sessions may include children from the child's social group or someone they don't know.

Group CBT creates chances for these children to build new relationships and fight their social fears.

It is effective in helping children and adolescents with depression, substance abuse, and social anxiety. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy With Parents

This type of CBT teaches parents different techniques to help their children overcome fears and anxiety. The learning methods for children and parents include individual therapy, psychoeducation, parent training, and caregiver coping.

Cognitive behavioral therapy with parents asks them to play their roles in handling their children's psychological disorders at home. 

CBT With Medication

Some CBT also uses certain medications in the treatment. Studies have also shown the effectiveness of psychotropic medicines, such as antidepressants, stimulants, and mood stabilizers, in treating several anxiety disorders in children and adolescents.

The health care team only prescribes these medications for your child if necessary for the therapy process.

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This CBT type is mainly for children and adolescents who have faced any kind of emotional or physical trauma. It focuses on PTSD symptoms and is usually a short treatment of only six to 20 sessions.

It may or may not include the child's parents.

A trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy addresses a child's different behavioral and cognitive (thinking) issues, including traumatic experiences. 

It also focuses on depression and anxiety disorders and motivates parents to understand their child's changed behavior and struggles.

CBT and Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)

Motivational enhancement therapy (MET) is used for adolescents to motivate them to change their behavior from the inside. When MET pairs with CBT, it helps the youth control their drug and alcohol addictions internally.

This therapy takes place in a group where the therapists and the adolescents discuss their struggles, develop coping techniques, and follow motivational steps to overcome their problems. 

This is a thorough process that encourages the adolescent to stay consistent in their progress.

CBT, MET, and Family-Based Behavioral Therapy

In family-based behavioral therapy, parents serve as role models for children. They change their own behavior to set an example for the child to change their behavior. This therapy enhances parents' management and problem-solving skills for the long run.

When this therapy pairs with CBT and MET, it helps children and adolescents cope with many behavioral disorders.

Show Sources


Better Health Channel: "Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)."

‌Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Therapy to Improve Children's Mental Health."

‌Clinical Practice & Epidemiology in Mental Health: "The Impact of Prescribed Psychotropics on Youth."

‌Effective Child Therapy: "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy."

‌Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology Volume 45, 2016 - Issue 2: "Evidence Base Update: 50 Years of Research on Treatment for Child and Adolescent Anxiety."

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