Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Treatment

Treatment for GAD usually has a psychotherapeutic and a pharmacological component. In therapy, the family plays an integral role in aiding the child in her quest to control her anxiety and its effects; kids really need their parents’ help in working through the symptoms of GAD.

Psychotherapeutic: GAD is often treated with cognitive behavioral therapy. Exposure therapy, in which a therapist exposes a child to stressors in gradual increments and teachs her techniques to manage the anxiety response, can be effective for GAD, but difficult because of the wide range of stressors. Another technique involves teaching the child how to recognize symptoms and how her thinking contributes to anxiety, and to understand that her anxiety response is out of proportion to the things that trigger it. This is referred to in some circles as “decatastrophizing.” A course of CBT for GAD can be relatively short—10 or 20 sessions—with the child and her family practicing learned skills in the world outside the office.

Pharmacological: GAD often responds very well to the group of antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Anti-anxiety drugs are often prescribed if these do not provide the desired result. Buspirone is one which can be taken over the long term. The benzodiazepines are stronger, fast-acting sedatives that work well to curb bouts of anxiety but are prescribed sparingly, as they may be habit forming.