A cognitive-behavioral group intervention for social phobia: Extension to a preadolescent sample

Heather Marie Gallagher

Abstract

Little research exists on the treatment of social phobia in childhood. Given that onset of social phobia prior to age 11 may signal a chronic and treatment refractory course, development of empirically supported interventions are of critical importance. The present study provides pilot data on the efficacy of a cognitive-behavioral group intervention for children, modeled on a successful adult and adolescent program. Twenty-three children between the ages of 8 and 11 years were recruited from the community by means of flyers distributed in the schools, advertisements, and contact with pediatricians offices. Children meeting a specified cutoff on a measure of social anxiety were administered a diagnostic interview. Parents were administered a corresponding parent interview. Those children meeting criteria for social phobia on the basis of the parent or child interview were assigned to a treatment or a wait-list control group. The cognitive-behavioral group intervention consisted of cognitive restructuring, education about anxiety, and exposure exercises. The intervention was conducted over the course of three weeks, with an additional three week follow-up. All wait-list participants were offered the intervention at completion of the three-week follow-up. Results indicate that children in the treatment group demonstrated improvements on the majority of parent, child, and interviewer measures, relative to wait-list participants. Treatment participants generally improved with regard to child self-report of anxiety and depression, parent report of their child's anxiety and depression, and diagnostic status. The majority of gains were observed from pretest to follow-up. Children's social competence does not appear to have been affected by treatment. Findings indicate that cognitive-behavioral techniques may have utility in the treatment of social phobia in children. Limitations of the present study, as well as implications and future research directions, are discussed.