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Parent-child Play Therapy Relieves Depression in Pre-Schoolers

A form of play therapy between parents and their toddlers can relieve depression in preschoolers, according to child psychiatry researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Known as parent-child interaction therapy, the play-based technique has been used successfully to treat hyperactivity and disruptive disorders. The researchers adapted it, adding a focus on emotional development, to test whether it could help parents teach their children how to regulate negative emotions, such as guilt and sadness.
Play therapy sessions put parents and their children in one room while a therapist observes from a nearby room.
Results from the pilot study are published online in the journal Depression and Anxiety. Investigators caution that the findings are preliminary, involving only eight preschoolers, but they call the outcomes dramatic. Depression symptoms improved in all of the children studied.
“There was a very large effect,” says principal investigator Joan L. Luby, MD, professor of child psychiatry. “From our past research, we know that children as young as three can suffer from clinical depression, but how to treat it is an open question. Most infant-preschool mental health providers want to avoid drug treatment, and there is evidence that psychosocial interventions can be uniquely effective in young children. Our findings certainly suggest that may be true for depression.”
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