Tailoring the treatment

A letter from our March edition.

Seeing my 13-year-old brother so unhappy with his life is heart-breaking. He struggles with anxiety and sees the world as an awful place, struggling to find anything right with his life. Despite being referred to a psychologist, one thing I picked up on was that he simply was not engaged in the treatment. This is unsurprising given that the CBT homework he was given was not tailored to children in any way. A 13-year-old boy and a 30-year-old man would never be treated the same in other aspects of life, so why is it the norm to give everyone the same homework as part of treatment? After all, life satisfaction is a huge part of a person’s life and should be taken very seriously.

As an undergraduate psychology student, I combined knowledge from my studies and knowledge of my brother to develop and test a theory. Whilst the ‘black-and-white, tick box, talk about your feelings’ type homework is unlikely to engage a boy who has to be forced to complete his school homework, other things do engage him. My brother’s biggest interest, for example, is video games. A common feature in video games is a points system, and so I took this and developed a ‘5 things that went well today’ list using a similar points system. Each positive he listed was the equivalent of so many points and once a certain amount of points was achieved, these could be exchanged for rewards.

Whilst I realise this is a very straightforward exercise, the point was to prove not only that it is possible to engage my brother in homework of some sort, but also that it is possible to facilitate the recognition of positives in his life. After three weeks of completing the challenge, I found that my brother was not only happy to complete it daily, but that he didn’t even need prompting.

It became part of his daily routine and he found it easier and easier to think of 5 positives, which is a huge change in his outlook on life.

It is vital to catch disorders such as anxiety and depression in their early stages in order to minimise the impact of it on a person’s life and stop it from spiralling out of control. It is worrying to think that many young people could have been engaged in treatment and found it helpful but may not have been simply because the treatment didn’t take them, as individuals, into consideration. Each person is an individual and should be seen that way. Whilst I appreciate that developing a tailored therapy for each client would be time-consuming and impractical, I do strongly believe that treatments for children and adolescents should be rethought. After all, anxiety affects one in eight children and research has shown that those who go untreated are, understandably, at risk of further problems, such as performing poorly at school. The development of more effective techniques to provide children with homework they will complete is vital. Would the development of an app allowing people to fill in their homework via their tablet or smart phone be so difficult? Would it not be possible to set up a points system for rewards similar to that used above in coalition with a child’s parents?

Jemma Broadstock

Unergraduate, University of Leicester

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This is great!