Julie is a 15 year old high school sophomore. She and her mother were on the way to school, when she could feel it happening again. Her heart rate was rising, her palms were becoming sweaty and it was becoming harder for her to breathe. As her mother’s car got closer to the school, her symptoms began to intensify. By the time they were two blocks away, Julie was in the middle of a full blown panic attack. She screamed for her mother to stop the car, and when she did not, Julie attempted to open the door while the car was still moving.
This had become a normal occurrence for Julie and her family. For the past two weeks, Julie had not made it through one complete day of school. She would either refuse to go, have a panic attack on the way, or she would get through one or two classes and then go to the nurse to be sent home “sick.”
Facts about School Anxiety and Refusal in NJ
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, school refusal describes the disorder of a child who refuses to go to school on a regular basis or has problems staying in school. Children with school refusal may complain of physical symptoms shortly before it is time to leave for school or repeatedly ask to visit the school nurse. If the child is allowed to stay home, the symptoms quickly disappear, only to reappear the next morning. In some cases a child may refuse to leave the house. Anxiety-based school refusal affects 2 to 5 percent of school-age children. It commonly takes place between the ages of five and six and between ten and eleven, and at times of transition, such as entering middle and high school.
Treatment for School Anxiety and Refusal in NJ through CBT
Treatment for School Anxiety and Refusal at GenPsych, PC begins as early as our Partial Care Program. To find out more about our levels of care, click here, where we have an entire group offered every week, focused purely on school and overcoming all of the stressors that come along with it. We have also found that both CBT and DBT are effective in the treatment of school anxiety and refusal. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) pretty much says that our thoughts come first. From those thoughts, we experience certain emotions, and those emotions can then dictate our behaviors. The thing is, many times our thoughts are not accurate. For example, a student might say something like, “Everyone at school hates me!” From that thought, the student may feel anxious or depressed. So, then the behavior is to not go to school.
Once we go back and examine that initial thought with the student, fact check and see if there’s a different perspective, that initial thought might turn into one that is more accurate. This might sound like, “There are some people at school that don’t like me, and at the same time, I have a few friends.” Now, the feelings associated with this thought are less intense and over time the behavior should change. It’s not going to change overnight. Chances are that the student has been having these negative thoughts for a long time and it’s going to take correcting the inaccurate thoughts over and over again for behaviors to change. It’s as if you were doing a dumbbell curl with your left arm over and over again for years. That arm is going to be much stronger than the right. The first time you pick up the dumbbell with your right arm and do a curl, it’s not going to be as strong as the left. It’s going to take time.
Treatment for School Anxiety and Refusal in NJ through DBT
There are some students who are going to struggle with correcting their irrational thoughts and might even find it kind of invalidating. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) can be effective in this case. It can be used by itself or in conjunction with CBT. DBT focuses on being mindful. This simply means learning to be in the present moment. Many times, students will focus on things that have happened in the past. This is where a lot of depression comes from. Or, they may worry about something that might happen in the future. Here’s where anxiety comes from. If we learn to stay in the present moment, we can recognize when certain feelings of depression and anxiety are first coming on and implement coping skills in that moment, as opposed to waiting until the emotions are unmanageable. DBT teaches students about mindfulness and then moves on to teach about different skills in the Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation, Interpersonal Effectiveness and Walking the Middle Path modules. You can learn more about DBT by clicking here.
GenPsych PC Provides Mental Health Services in New Jersey
GenPsych, PC is a NJ outpatient treatment provider with various levels of care. We offer a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), and Individual Outpatient services at four different locations across NJ. We treat adults, adolescents and children through such modalities as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Art Therapy, Pet Therapy, Music Therapy and Reality Based Interventions. Diagnoses such as Depression, Anxiety, Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Eating Disorders and Substance abuse are all treated by a highly trained staff in a warm, non-judgmental atmosphere.
Learn more about GenPsych’s Adolescent Programs in New Jersey by clicking here.