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Brief Anxiety Therapy May Improve Teen Mental Health

Young woman visiting counselor for anxiety  

An initiative called Project Personality may be helpful to improve teen mental health and in particular, anxiety. Project Personality is meant to help adolescents aged 12-to-15 gain more control over their anxiety, and it includes a series of stories and exercises geared specifically toward a young audience. Project Personality may help shed some light into effective, accessible ways to help improve teen mental health.

Changing Behaviors and Developing Control

Project Personality was initially created by Jessica Schleider, who is an assistant professor at Stony Brook University. She serves as the director for the Lab for Scalable Mental Health. The objective of the exercises and explainers that are part of Project Personality is to help young people learn new ways of thinking. The initiative shows the potential of teens learning to practice a variation of psychotherapy on themselves without a therapist.

While the program is still in its early stages, according to Schleider, a single session using a similar program helped reduce levels of both anxiety and depression among young people aged 12-to-15. In addition to looking at digital programs like Project Personality, the lab headed by Schleider has plans to test the effectiveness of single sessions of psychotherapy for teens and adults. She said the session focus would be taking one step to solve a troublesome problem and participants would leave the session with a specific plan for coping.

Psychotherapy for teens is something that has been proven in traditional formats to be helpful, but it’s not always highly accessible. Programs like Project Personality could potentially cut down on many of the barriers that prevent treatment when dealing with mental health issues in teens.

There must be more attention on teenage mental health awareness; currently, the levels of anxiety and depression appear to be incredibly high among young people. For example, according to the Child Mind Institute, depression and bipolar disorder affect 14.3% of young people aged 13-to-17. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 80% of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder aren’t receiving treatment.

Same Therapeutic Benefits, Less Money and Time

With traditional mental health programs for teens, some of the barriers to treatment can include the stigma, the cost and the fact that they are time-consuming. Schleider wants to determine if a short, digital form of teenage anxiety treatment could provide the same benefit of going to a traditional in-person therapy session and paying $200 an hour every week over a period of months. Around 30% of psychotherapists don’t take insurance, and at community clinics that provide lower-cost care, there are often long waiting lists.

Schleider acknowledges there are a lot of apps that provide access to programs that are similar to therapy, but she says that thus far many of them haven’t been proven effective at providing help with teenage mental health or adult mental health.

As Schleider and her team explore these short-term solutions, she hopes that they could eventually be used in a more widespread way in schools or in pediatrician’s offices. The single-session programs that Schleider is looking at are usually anywhere from five to 90 minutes long. The goal is to not only provide help within that session but to get participants in these programs to then to provide help to their peers as well.

Teen Mental Health Statistics

Around half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14, which is one reason why Schleider feels the age group she’s targeting with her brief intervention model is ideal. She published a meta-analysis looking at single-session interventions for children and teens, and this analysis didn’t include her own work. She found evidence the approach of using brief therapy sessions can be effective in helping with anxiety in teens.

For example, she found a teen receiving a single-session intervention had a 58% higher chance of seeing an improvement of symptoms compared to a teen who didn’t receive any help. In particular, single-session interventions appeared effective in helping with not only anxiety reduction but behavioral issues. Schleider said that on one measure, a single therapy session was around as effective as 16 sessions.

Other researchers have found similar results. One study found that four days of exposure therapy helped two-thirds of teens dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder experience remission. Separately, a 90-minute intervention helped improve college students’ feelings of hope and purpose, and a longer program that lasted anywhere from four-to-eight weeks changed a person’s personality.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s statistics on teenage anxiety and mental health, more than 4.4 million young people between the ages of 3 and 17 have diagnosed anxiety, and nearly two million have diagnosed depression.

Benefits of Brief Anxiety Therapy for Teens

Different techniques may work better than others when it comes to single-session interventions or fast therapy sessions. For example, motivational interviewing with teens is one option. In a traditional clinical setting using motivational interviewing of teenagers, a therapist encourages the patient to look at whether or not his or her actions are helping them achieve their goals.

Other professional therapists say that shorter-term therapy can be effective if you manage expectations. These sessions may work for less severe mental health symptoms as well, but perhaps not more difficult situations such as major depression or bipolar disorder.

While there’s still a lot to learn about these micro-therapy sessions, what we do know is that it’s important to understand more about teen mental health and work on providing early interventions before early symptoms lead to larger and more significant issues in a young person’s life.

If your teen is struggling with substances, please contact Next Generation Village. We also offer treatment for co-occurring disorders at our caring, evidence-based treatment center.


Khazan, Olga. “The Quick Therapy That Actually Works.” The Atlantic, August 21, 2019. Accessed September 26, 2019.

Child Mind Institute. “Anxiety and Depression in Adolescence.” Accessed September 26, 2019.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). “Children and Teens.” Accessed September 26, 2019.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Children’s Mental Health.” April 19, 2019. Accessed September 26, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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