A depression treatment program created by University of Texas at Austin educational psychologist Kevin Stark has been adopted by mental health professionals in Belgium and the Netherlands as the government sanctioned treatment for children experiencing depressive disorders.
The decision was made during a meeting at the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction, during which mental health professionals from a number of European countries established guidelines for the treatment of various psychiatric disorders. The ACTION treatment program developed by Stark was adopted, and mental health professionals in Belgium and the Netherlands now must use the program to receive financial support from their governments.
It is anticipated other European countries will formally adopt this treatment as well.
Stark developed the ACTION program using treatment outcome findings from a five-year, National Institutes of Health-funded study he conducted on depression in girls. This study was the largest ever conducted on depressed pre-teen and early teen girls.
Stark found the treatment program, a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, is extremely effective in helping youth manage and overcome depression. This clinical approach emphasizes the crucial role of coping skills, problem solving and the need to change unrealistic, negative thinking as a way to alleviate the symptoms of depression.
“Ideally, changes in mood will serve as a signal that the child needs to engage in coping, problem solving, or more realistic and adaptive thinking,” says Stark, a professor in the College of Education‘s Department of Educational Psychology. “We teach the girls to recognize when they are feeling bad and that they can take action to help themselves to feel better.
“When they feel bad and can’t do anything to change an undesirable situation, they are taught to use coping skills to improve mood. When they feel bad and can change an undesirable situation, they are taught to use problem solving to change the situation. If the unpleasant emotions are due to unrealistic, negative thought patterns, then they are taught to change these thoughts to more realistic and positive thoughts.”
The materials Stark has developed to use with children are developmentally appropriate, and children’s parents and teachers are taught to help them learn and apply new skills.
In addition to being a College of Education faculty member and researcher, Stark is co-founder of the Texas Child Study Center (TCSC). The center represents a collaboration between The University of Texas at Austin and Seton Family of Hospitals and is the outpatient mental health clinic for Dell Children’s Medical Center. The TCSC offers comprehensive mental health services for children and their families and provides training for University of Texas at Austin graduate students and psychiatric residents. In addition, the Center supports funded research on the treatment of various childhood illnesses and disorders.
In the aftermath of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, Stark was called on to help develop a comprehensive intervention program for the child victims and to train mental health workers in New York City and New Orleans. He teaches graduate level courses on child and adolescent therapy and has completed more than 100 articles, chapters and presentations on the subject of depression in children.