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Health care guidelines recommend psychological interventions for childhood unusual experiences that are associated with distress or adverse functional impact (UEDs), based on adult, rather than child‐specific, evidence. We report the first randomized controlled evaluation of the acceptability and potential clinical utility of cognitive behavioural therapy for childhood UEDs (CBT‐UED).
Pilot randomized controlled trial.
Participants aged 8–14 years were recruited from referrals to community services for children with emotional/behavioural problems and screened for self‐reported UEDs.
Of around 1,000 referrals over 36 months, 304 (30%) were identified to the research team, 174 (57%) were successfully contacted, 110 (63%) consented to screening, 96 (87%) attended a screening assessment, and 51 (53%) reported UEDs. Forty‐nine (96%) consented to randomization to either CBT‐UED (9–12 weekly sessions of 40–50 min, adjunctive to usual care, n = 24) or treatment‐as‐usual/waitlist control (TAU/WL, n = 25). Childhood internalizing emotional symptoms (e.g., feeling ‘nervous’/'scared’/’tearful’/’worried’/'sick’; proposed primary outcome), UEDs, depression, anxiety, and childhood psychopathology (secondary outcomes) were measured at baseline, at 12 weeks, and, where therapy was ongoing but incomplete (<12 sessions) at 12 weeks, at end‐of‐treatment (EOT). Twenty‐two CBT‐UED participants (92%) attended ≥5 sessions. Forty‐four participants (90%) completed 12‐week assessments (CBT‐UED, n = 21/24, 88%; TAU/WL, n = 23/25, 92%). Preliminary findings were encouraging for emotional symptoms and UEDs, but otherwise mixed.
Retention, screening, and consent rates were as anticipated; recruitment took longer than planned. Trial procedures were acceptable to young people, their families, and clinicians. Therapy exceeded 12 weeks, but was well‐received, with no serious adverse events attributed to participation. Further evaluation is needed.
Practitioner points
Around half of 8‐ to 14‐year‐olds in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services reported distressing unusual experiences. An age‐adapted cognitive behavioural intervention appears feasible, and safe to deliver, with the potential to augment standard care. This is a pilot study, and further evaluation is needed. Longer term outcomes should be a focus of future evaluation.


School of Psychology

Document Type

Journal Article

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