CBT Treatment of Childhood Depression

Just like adults, children can experience various mental illnesses including depression. Depression can affect up to 3% of Australian children and adolescents. Childhood depression can be a reaction to many circumstances including family conflict, parenting separation, loss of a pet, bullying at school or low self-esteem. This blog outlines to parents how to identify if your child is depressed and what you can do to help your child. Cognitive behavioural therapy is an evidenced based therapy to help children with depression. Part of helping your child may be taking them to visit a child psychologist to receive CBT therapy. This blog also provides details on what is involved in CBT treatment of childhood depression.


Behavioural Signs Your Child May be Depressed

The following list includes signs and behavioural indicators that your child may be depressed:

  • Depressed or irritable mood
  • Decreased interest or lack of enjoyment in activities previously enjoyed
  • Decreased concentration or indecision
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation

Any of these signs can occur in children who are not depressed, but when seen together, nearly every day for at least 2 weeks, they could be signs for childhood depression. You can complete the Beyond Blue symptom checklist here.


How a Parent Can Help a Child with Depression

Here are our top tips on how you can help childhood depression:

Spend quality time with your child, listen to what they have to say and validate their emotions. This helps to strengthen the parent-child bond.

Support healthy coping skills for your child. Find calming activities to deal with stress. Help your child learn to describe their feelings. Encourage their strengths and focus on helping them to see things in a positive light.

Ensure physiological needs are met.  The basics for good mental health include a healthy diet, enough sleep, exercise, and positive connections with other people at home and at school.

Talk to your child’s doctor about your concerns as some medical problems can cause symptoms similar to depression. The doctor may also recommend medication or a referral to a specialist for CBT treatment of childhood depression.


When It’s Time to Seek Help from a Psychologist

It’s normal to experience a depressed mood from time to time, however if your child experiences these symptoms on more days than not, and they last longer than two weeks, it may be time to seek help from a professional such as a psychologist working with children.


What is CBT Treatment of Childhood Depression

One of the most researched and clinically proven therapies for depression is Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy (CBT). This essentially involves two different components. The cognitive component promotes identifying the thoughts and assumptions that play a role in the child’s behaviours, especially those that may predispose the child to being depressed. The behavioural component uses behaviour modification methods to teach the child more effective ways of dealing with problems.


When utilising therapeutic techniques with children, interventions need to be targeted to the child’s developmental age. Children learn best though play as this is their natural language. While learning new skills in a therapy session, there are a lot of arts and crafts, games and activities involved. The initial goals of therapy are to create a safe space for the child to work through their issues in a way natural to them. A positive relationship between therapist and child is also important as it helps the child to feel accepted and supported. This can also build self-esteem and confidence in the child.

Let me explain some of my favourite techniques to deliver therapy for depression in a child friendly format:

Art activities can be used to help children talk about their emotions. In a therapy session, we might draw different feelings onto a page, or use a gingerbread outline to colour in where they feel different emotions in their body. This helps children learn how to recognise emotions in their own bodies. Once they can identify their emotions, it is easier to express them to others and learn strategies to cope with these feelings.

Challenging negative thoughts. When working with a child to challenge negative thoughts, we might write the thoughts down and then challenge the thought whilst being a ‘thought detective’. We look for the evidence that the negative thought is true, and the evidence that it is not true. Then we write down any changes in our beliefs and how differently we feel with the new belief.

Imagery exercises may also be used in the therapy process. For example, we might start by talking about a safe such as a happy place that the child has been to, or a safe place they can imagine. This place is then described by the child in detail, using all five senses. The child closes their eyes and takes themselves to their safe, happy place. They describe what the place looks like, the sounds and smells there, and anything they can touch or feel on their skin. The child can visit their safe place in their imagination whenever they like.

These are just some examples of what counselling for childhood depression may look like. It is important for the therapist to tailor their intervention to suit the child’s age, personality and cognitive ability. Therapy for childhood depression allows children the opportunity to learn valuable coping skills, which helps them to improve their overall functioning and live happier, more fulfilling lives.


How to Get Help

If you would like to consult wtih a psychologist, please see your GP for a referral to a psychologist working with children. If you would like to consult your child with us, we suggest you download our CBT Referral form and take it with you to your doctor as this has all the information you and your doctor need to make a referral to CBT Professionals.

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