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SmartCAT app may help kids with anxiety

SmartCAT stands for smartphone-enhanced child anxiety treatment. The

SmartCAT stands for smartphone-enhanced child anxiety treatment. The platform connects a smartphone app for patients with a clinician portal, allowing real-time communication between the two. Credit: SmartCAT

"Everyone will laugh at me." "Something is hiding in the dark." "If my mom goes out, she might not come back." These are thoughts that, for children with anxiety disorders, can interfere with their quality of life. Child anxiety disorders are common, affecting about one to two out of every 10 school-age children.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Schools of Health Sciences -- Jennifer Silk, an expert in child anxiety, and Bambang Parmanto, an expert in telehealth -- have developed a promising new technology to enhance treatment for child anxiety disorders: a mobile health platform called SmartCAT.

SmartCAT stands for smartphone-enhanced child anxiety treatment. The platform connects a smartphone app for patients with a clinician portal, allowing real-time communication between the two. SmartCAT is intended to augment cognitive behavioral therapy, an effective treatment for child anxiety disorders.

A pilot study of the SmartCAT program involved nine young people ages 9-14 with an anxiety-related diagnosis. Three were given 16-session cognitive behavior therapy; the remaining six were treated with a shortened eight-week course that combined conventional therapy and SmartCAT. Four of the children in the combination program no longer have an anxiety diagnosis, similar to the response rate of children who underwent the longer conventional treatment.

The heart of the app is a skills coach. A therapist develops a skills coach plan for each child. When kids feel anxious, they press the icon for the skills coach and answer questions about their feelings. The app suggests coping thoughts and problem-solving strategies for kids to use in the moment.

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