The Pediatric Anxiety Research Center at Bradley Hospital is partnering with Massachusetts’ Riverside Community Care, a behavioral health care and human service organization, to learn what makes exposure therapy successful. Exposure therapy is a form of talk therapy that is already known to be safe and highly effective for treating anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems, and it is often the first to show up in childhood. Up to 30 percent of people have anxiety that gets in the way at school, at work, with family members, in relationships, or in other ways. In children, untreated anxiety is associated with other problems, such as substance abuse, later in adulthood.
Exposure therapy has been studied for over 50 years in more than 150 clinical trials and is very effective at all ages. National practice guidelines recommend it as a first-line treatment for anxiety or OCD. It involves working with a trained therapist to complete exposures— practice situations where people gradually learn to face fears over time. “Exposures are a manageable way to learn through experience that most fears don’t come true—and when they sometimes do, it’s not as scary as you might have thought,” said Kristen Benito, Ph.D., Bradley Hospital researcher and principal investigator for the study.
Despite being very effective, exposure therapy is not widely available to those affected by anxiety or OCD. It is primarily used by specialists in academic and research clinics, and most practicing therapists do not have access to exposure therapy training. The BRAVE study hopes to start addressing this problem.
“We need to get this training to more therapists, but there is no standard for teaching what successful exposure therapy should ‘look like.’ Right now, that only exists in the heads of specialists” said Benito. “In an earlier study, we developed a brief exposure assessment tool based on hundreds of videotaped exposures with specialists. Our goal in the BRAVE study is to see whether this tool is useful for therapists and families, and whether it can tell them when exposure is ‘on-track.’”
The study takes place in Riverside Community Care outpatient locations, where participating therapists receive specialized exposure training from the BRAVE research team. “At Riverside, our mission is to provide quality care to all who need it,” said Walter Dias, Senior Vice President for Behavioral Services at Riverside Community Care. “For many of the individuals and families that we work with, exposure therapy is an essential part of high-quality care. In addition to supporting the research, we are thrilled to have this training opportunity for Riverside therapists—and to extend this treatment to more people who need it in our communities.”
The BRAVE study is enrolling individuals ages five to 25 who are seeking treatment for anxiety or OCD at a participating Riverside location. Study participants will have exposure therapy incorporated into treatment with their Riverside therapist; all other parts of treatment will be the same regardless of study participation. Study participants will also complete four symptom assessments and a short questionnaire after therapy sessions, for which their time will be compensated.
For more information about services at Riverside Community Care (including the BRAVE study), please call the location closest to you or visit www.riversidecc.org.
Participating Riverside Locations:
Lynnfield, MA: 781-246-2010
Upton, MA: 508-529-7024
Norwood, MA: 781-769-8670
Newton, MA: 617-969-4925
Dedham, MA: 781-329-4579
To learn more about Pediatric Anxiety Research Center (PARC) studies, please call 401-432-1468 or visit www.anxiouskids.org.