September 25, 2015
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Family-based intervention effectively treated anxiety in offspring of anxious parents

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A brief family-based cognitive behavioral intervention reduced incidence of anxiety disorders and severity of anxiety symptoms among children of anxious parents, according to study findings in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

“Family aggregation studies indicate that children of anxious parents have an elevated risk of having an anxiety disorder, and specific parenting practices, such as modeling of anxiety and overcontrol/overprotection, contribute to elevated anxiety. Family-based treatments for pediatric anxiety disorders that target these parenting practices, along with other cognitive-behavioral strategies, have been found to reduce child anxiety,” Golda S. Ginsburg, PhD, University of Connecticut Health Center, West Hartford, Connecticut, and colleagues wrote.

Researchers randomly assigned 136 families with a parent who met DSM-IV criteria for an anxiety disorder and one child aged 6 to 13 years without an anxiety disorder to a family-based intervention (n = 70) or to an information-monitoring control condition (n = 66) for 8 weeks. Families were assessed at baseline, at 8 weeks, and 6 and 12 months following intervention.

Overall, 31% of children in the control group and 5% in the intervention group had an anxiety disorder.

At 1-year follow-up, children in the control group had higher anxiety symptoms ratings compared with those in the intervention group

“Effect sizes were medium to large (0.81 at 6 months and 0.57 at 12 months for anxiety symptoms), and the number needed to treat was 3.9 at 12 months,” according to Ginsburg and colleagues.

Baseline levels of child anxiety were significant moderators of outcomes, while parental distress and modeling of anxiety were significant mediators. Child maladaptive cognitions and parental anxiety did not mediate outcomes.

“The study demonstrated that the Coping and Promoting Strength program, a brief family-based cognitive-behavioral intervention, reduced the incidence of anxiety disorders and the severity of anxiety symptoms over a 1-year period in offspring of anxious parents, a population at high risk for developing anxiety disorders,” Ginsburg and colleagues wrote. “A critical question for prevention programs is whether they have a net positive balance of economic costs and benefits. While our study was not designed to directly assess this question, we observed a higher rate of mental health service utilization among participants in the control condition, although it was not statistically different from the rate in the intervention group.” – by Amanda Oldt

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.