Social anxiety is the most common anxiety disorder of adolescence, affecting up to 15 percent of teens. Not only is it a “gateway disorder” that predicts adult psychopathology, it is a prevalent threat to youth’s current social, emotional and academic adjustment. Yet fewer than 30 percent of socially anxious youth receive treatment. Often, this is because they wish to avoid the social situation of seeing a therapist. Moreover, many communities lack the mental health services to address this pressing problem.
A new University of Virginia study – which is seeking participants – aims to make treatment accessible for socially anxious youth through Internet delivery. Youth participants will be asked to complete eight, 20-minute online sessions every three days from their home computer. The sessions are designed to feel more like a game than therapy, and the study’s lead investigator, Meg Reuland, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology, hopes this will be appealing to its 11- to 15-year-old participants.
“We know that entering treatment can be really difficult for these kids and teens,” she said. “We wanted to make something that was both convenient and engaging for these youth.” She is working on the study with her mentor, U.Va. psychology professor Bethany Teachman of the College of Arts & Sciences.
Following the lead of other family therapies for anxiety, the intervention also involves parents. Their role in youth social anxiety is not fully understood, and the study seeks to learn more about how they can best support their children’s growth. For this reason, parents may also receive eight sessions of online therapy, completed in tandem with their child.
Reuland is currently seeking socially anxious youth and their parents to participate in this experimental treatment. Interested parents will be screened on the phone. If it appears likely that their child meets criteria for social anxiety, they will be invited for further assessment to the psychology department’s Ainsworth Clinic. Eligible participants will return to the clinic for assessment on four other occasions over the course of the intervention. If it appears that children do not meet criteria for social anxiety, referrals to other treatments will be offered.
For the intervention itself, participants will complete eight short (approximately 20-minute) sessions online from their personal computers at home. Parents and children will both be awarded $75 for completion of the study.
To find out if you and your child are eligible to participate, contact Reuland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 434-207-8696.