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October 8, 2012
According to a recent study published in Behavior Therapy, universal school-based cognitive behavior prevention programs may provide benefits for children who suffer from or are at risk for symptoms of anxiety. The FRIENDS program was developed in Australia in 2000. It is a cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) based early prevention program designed to help children with symptoms of anxiety. The children learn valuable strategies such as recognizing their anxiety, identifying and challenging their anxious thoughts, using coping skills, and self-rewarding for hard work and achievements. The current study, based in Germany, consisted of children (n=638) from 14 different schools. Participants were separated into groups by school, either practicing the FRIENDS program (n=302) or participating in the control condition (n=336). After completion, the children who participated in the FRIENDS program showed significant reductions in anxiety and depressive symptoms and had lower perfectionism scores at a 12 month follow up. There was no significant difference in the efficacy of the FRIENDS program based on gender; however, age showed to be a factor. The younger children (age 9-10) benefitted from the program earlier on, whereas the older children (age 11-12) showed program gains after 6 to 12 months. This suggests that older children may need to practice strategies in real-life settings before reaping full benefits. Higher parent participation also predicted greater reductions in anxiety at post-intervention. This study supports the efficacy of a universal school-based CBT prevention program in a new country and shows that universal CBT prevention programs may be beneficial to school children, worldwide.

Essau, Cecelia A.,  Conradt, Judith,  Sasagawa, Satoko,  & Ollendick, Thomas H. (2012). Prevention of Anxiety Symptoms in Children: Results From a Universal School-Based Trial. Behavior Therapy, 43(2) 450-464.