New Intervention Uses Family to Treat Depression and Anxiety in Children

A research trial funded by Australian Rotary Health (ARH) shows that a new family-based intervention is successful in treating children with depression and anxiety.

With an ARH Funding Partner Scholarship co-funded by Motto Fashions, the Rotary Club of Richmond and Deakin University, Michelle Benstead developed and evaluated BEST-Foundations, a preventative family-based intervention for children at risk of developing depression in adolescence.

Michelle saw a need for a new intervention to be developed, because while cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the leading treatment option for depression and anxiety, research shows it is less effective with children.

“Children’s brains are not yet equipped to deal with complex, and abstract thinking which is found in treatments for depression and anxiety such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Interestingly, CBT is the most dominant treatment approach, yet with children the effectiveness is questionable. This highlights the need for a different approach to treatment with children,” Michelle said.

“The research shows us there are several family-based factors that have been found to be protective against depression and anxiety in children. These include a secure and nurturing relationship between children and parents, consistent parenting, and positive parental mental well-being.”

With this in mind, Michelle designed a 10-session intervention to help treat symptoms of depression and anxiety in children aged between 3 and 11 years.

The intervention, BEST-Foundations, included all family members in an attempt to not only alleviate symptoms, but promote strong relationships and improve communication in families, and increase parental confidence.

“We know that if there is a problem with one family member, it can impact the entire family. It was exciting to watch both parents and children grow as a result of taking part in the BEST-Foundations intervention.  Over the weeks, parents gained confidence, families communicated better, and most importantly children’s symptoms of depression and anxiety improved,” Michelle said.

“Encouraging parents to reflect on what has shaped their parenting was an important part of the BEST-Foundations intervention.  It enabled them to think about how their own upbringing may have contributed, and allowed them to consider what they think worked well, and what they purposefully do differently. The reflective process was essential in providing them with an opportunity to think about how they would like things to be in their own family, and work towards that vision, together as a family.”

This study was a World-First, as no previous intervention has targeted children aged between 3 to 11 years with symptoms of depression and anxiety using this theoretical perspective.

Michelle graduated with her PhD this year in February and has planned to submit 3 research papers to journals.


Media contact: Jessica Cooper – (02) 8837 1900 or










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