Is cognitive behavior therapy developmentally appropriate for young children? A critical review of the evidence

Clin Psychol Rev. 2004 Aug;24(4):399-420. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2004.03.002.


This paper questions the extent to which developmental considerations have been incorporated into the theory and practice of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It focuses on children aged between 5 and 8 years because Piagetian developmental theory places them at a prelogical cognitive level, and thus, the use of a therapeutic approach that is based on a rationalist paradigm would be considered inappropriate. The cognitive demands made upon 5- to 8-year-old children by CBT are outlined, and the current developmental literature is reviewed in the light of this to evaluate the cognitive abilities of this age group. The models underpinning CBT are examined for evidence of the influence of developmental psychology, and the outcome literature of CBT techniques is then scrutinized to evaluate the efficacy of these techniques with young children. Conclusions are reached regarding the appropriateness of current cognitive-behavioral approaches with young children, and the implications for alternative approaches are briefly considered.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / standards*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Problem Solving
  • Psychological Theory
  • Teaching / methods