Award for tackling child phobias

Child phobia research group, Associate Professor Allison Waters 2nd from left
Child phobia research group, Associate Professor Allison Waters 2nd from left

A research project looking for solutions to children’s phobias has been recognised as among the University’s best at the Vice Chancellor’s Research Excellence Awards.

The study by the Griffith Health Institute’s Behavioural Basis of Health Research group is lead by Associate Professor Allison Waters and includes researchers from Griffith’s Schools of Applied Psychology, Medicine and Pharmacy.

The group is also collaborating with Child Study Center at Virginia Tech in the USA.

Life-long cure

Associate Professor Waters is hoping the study, could be a breakthrough in helping children and their worried parents overcome debilitating fears, which can lead to life-long anxiety and other problems if left untreated.

“Approximately 80% of adult phobias develop in childhood and about 12% of all children develop some kind of phobia,” she said

“Approximately 140 children from Brisbane and the Gold Coast are taking part in the study, which is hoping to develop therapies which assist children to overcome anxieties as quickly as possible.

“The researchers based at Mt Gravatt, lead by Associate Professor Waters, are focusing on a computer-based attention-focusing program to enhance a single session of exposure therapy by helping children control which stimuli in their environment they give their attention to.

If you can learn it, you can unlearn it

Exposure therapy, as the name suggest, is where children are exposed to the causes of their anxiety in a controlled environment designed to allow the children to confront their fear, control their reaction to it and quickly overcome it all together.

The Gold Coast group, lead by Dr Lara Farrell, are using an antibiotic traditionally used to cure tuberculosis (D-Cycloserine), but has been discovered to improve the brain’s learning receptors. It is hoped this may speed up the treatment time and improve the rate of children for whom the treatment is effective.

Professor Tom Ollendick from the Child Study Center at Virginia Tech, has developed a program which can treat many phobias in a single session of exposure therapy, but recognises only 60-70% of children respond to any treatment.

“If you can control your fear you can control your anxiety. A phobia is a learned fear, if you can learn it you can unlearn it,” he said.

For more information, please contact the research team on 3735 3349.