Worried Sick

“Worried Sick” – Nick News with Linda Ellerbee premiered September 24th on Nickelodeon. This program purported to “take anxiety seriously” and offer kids “a way out of it.” I agree that it is vitally important to bring attention to the seriousness of anxiety disorders and their impact on kids, especially teens. For many, preventing them from succeeding in school, having friendships and other interpersonal relationships and ultimately leading to dysfunction and other mental health issues like obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders and depression.
I am, however, gravely concerned over the extreme form of exposure therapy that this program touted as the “cure” for anxiety. In every case described, children were exposed repeatedly to extreme versions of their worst fears and this was demonstrated as healing their anxiety. While an extremely shy boy ‘might’ master his stage fright by repeatedly being on stage with a microphone and spotlights; I fail to see any therapeutic value in forcing a teenage girl with a phobia about vomit to shove her hand in a bucketful for 20 minutes. Certainly, it is completely contraindicated in any child who has suffered from trauma in relation to the anxiety producing triggers. It is completely opposed to all that we have learned about the neuroscience of brain development over the past twenty years. . Forced re-traumatizing exposure is both scientifically and morally wrong. It can only cause further harm. Reprocessing of the trauma by a highly trained therapist using clinically researched techniques in a supported environment might be one component of an integrated therapeutic approach. But, first and foremost, children learn to recover from trauma through loving attunement to a caregiver and/or highly trained therapist. Programs like this one, depicting potentially extremely harmful miracle cures, quite honestly, worry me sick.

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