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New research from the University of Oxford has revealed that an online program that empowers parents to apply Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) principles in their child’s day to day lives is just as effective as traditional talking therapies for child anxiety problems, while substantially reducing the amount of therapist time required and making support more accessible for many families. The approach provides parents online tools and some therapist guidance to help children overcome problems with anxiety.

Two children holding hands looking out of a window © Getty Images

Published in The Lancet Psychiatry, the findings suggest this parent-led online CBT model could allow health services to treat more families, at lower cost, and reducing potential barriers to access for families. This could have major implications for expanding access to much-needed mental health treatment for children.

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health problems faced by children, affecting over a quarter of people at some point in their lives. If left untreated, they can severely impact social development, education attainment, and wellbeing. While cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment, few children can access it due to high demands on mental health services.

To address this gap, researchers, with support from a United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) Research Grant and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), developed ‘Online Support and Intervention’ (OSI) – an online program that guides parents through CBT strategies to help their anxious child. It includes educational content, tools like worksheets, quizzes, and brief weekly support from a therapist by phone or video.

Professor Cathy Creswell, Professor of Developmental Clinical Psychology in Oxford's Department of Experimental Psychology, explained: 'Anxiety problems often start early in childhood and bring substantial distress. Our study shows that by supporting parents to help their children using online tools with therapist support, we can dramatically increase how many children get timely, effective help.'

Read the full story on the University of Oxford website