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Intervention not medication: treating children with conduct problems effectively

JANUARY 23, 2008

Psychological therapies are the most effective way of treating children with conduct problems (e.g. persistent disruptive, deceptive or aggressive behaviour), says Professor Stephen Scott, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, in a recent report. 

In spite of this, in both the US and the UK, only a minority of children get treatment. The effectiveness of those who do receive treatment also appears to not be as good as results done in controlled trials.

Professor Scott considers that the next generation of evidence-based treatments should pay more attention to communicating good practice to professionals, including strategies for the ongoing training and supervision for practitioners, to ensure that treatment is effective.

Effective treatments

Engaging the family in treatment has shown to be an effective strategy. Identifying the strengths of both the child and the family is crucial, to help engagement, and to encourage families to work together to improve the child’s behaviour.

New programmes, such as parents’ behaviour management skills and group treatment, offering peer support and advice amongst parents, have proven to be very effective. Cognitive-behavioural therapies are also effective for pre-school children, as well as for those at school-age, and adults.

For school-age children, training teachers can play an important role in implementing positive strategies, helping them to use positive behaviour and group therapy to work with disruptive children.

In adolescents, where disruptive behaviour can include serious behaviour, such as criminal offending, functional family therapy works to engage, motivate, and stimulate behavioural change in young people, and help the family work better with outside agencies. This therapy has proven to be very effective, with all trials published to date having positive results.

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