Background: Emotion-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (ECBT) is a new form of CBT with emotion regulation components. This form of treatment is suggested to be employed to improve dysregulation of anxiety and other kind of emotions in anxious children. This study observed and compared the effectiveness of CBT and ECBT on anxiety symptoms; sadness and anger management; and cognitive emotion regulation strategies in children with separation anxiety disorder (SAD).
Materials and methods: This study is a randomized clinical trial. Subjects were 30 children from 9 to 13-years-old (15 girls and 15 boys) with diagnosis of SAD, being randomly assigned to CBT, ECBT, and control groups (five girls and five boys in each group). Subject children in CBT group participated in 10-h weekly sessions within Coping Cat manual; whereas, subject children in ECBT group contributed in 12-h weekly sessions within ECBT. The control group received no treatment. The Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders (SCARED; child and parent forms), Children's Emotion Management Scale (CEMS; anger and sadness forms), and Cognitive Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (CERQ) tests administered to all subjects in pretest, posttest, and the follow-up measurement (3 months later). Analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) repeated measure and Kruskal-Wallis were applied to analyze data by Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) software package (v. 20).
Results: CBT and ECBT; demonstrated no significant difference in reducing separation anxiety and total anxiety symptoms from parent and children's reports. ECBT effectively increased anger coping and decreased negative cognitive strategies and dysregulation of anger in children, both in posttest and follow-up. Also, ECBT reduced sadness dysregulation and increased sadness coping, though these significant advantages were lost in 3 months later follow-up. CBT reduced negative cognitive strategies in follow-up and increased sadness coping in posttest. None of treatments affected on anger and sadness inhibition and positive cognitive coping in separation anxious children.
Conclusion: ECBT, in comparison with CBT; effectively improved emotion regulation strategies in children with separation anxiety.
Keywords: Cognitive behavioral therapy; children; emotion-focused cognitive behavioral therapy; group therapy; separation anxiety.