Educational Psychologist’s Depression Treatment Adopted by Belgium and the Netherlands

Jan. 20, 2010

AUSTIN, Texas — 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.

For more information, contact: Kay Randall, College of Education, 512 471 6033.

8 Comments to "Educational Psychologist’s Depression Treatment Adopted by Belgium and the Netherlands"

1.  Pauline said on Jan. 20, 2010

Hi Kevin Stark,

Thank you for all you are doing to go global in helping those with counseling issues. I applaud you and your accomplishments and efforts.

Food for thought:

There are many UT students with counseling issues on campus, just may be you could address giving a presentation to the RAs or even collaborate with UT's own CMHC in the SSB. Or last but not least create a video for students to check out through the University Health Services Health Promotions Office, and Red Cross services.

2.  rita gonzales said on Jan. 21, 2010

I think it is great that this treatment was developed for teen girls, especially those affected by the horrendous tragedies of 9/11 and Katrina. I am the mother of a teen girl and know how difficult it is to get them to be happy and positive about themselves and life. Thank you, Dr. Stark, for your research. Congratulations. How does this treatment become mainstream with psychologists? How can I find a mental health professional who uses it?

3.  tina said on Jan. 21, 2010

Kudos for Stark for this important work. My question is, since the article only mentioned this treatment's use on depressed girls, how does it work for boys? Why only study girls in this case? I'm no psychologist, but surely boys have the same needs to address and work through depression, right? Does this method work as well for boys as for girls?

4.  Mary L. Pratt, LCSW said on Jan. 21, 2010

Based on my experience, Stark's approach is a very good methodology for all ages and sexes and most emotional conditions. His approach is a good starting point for most anyone with anxiety, depression and/or 'negative' behaviors.

5.  Susan Brooks said on Jan. 21, 2010

This sounds like a fantastic way to empower girls.

6.  Mireya Ribas said on Jan. 21, 2010

Finally someone has come up with an age-appropriate study for young pre-teen and teenage girls who are depressed! I have worked with many of them and have noticed the need for more realistic and adaptive thinking. My work also focused on those two aspects of life, as well as coping and and problem-solving skills. I am interested in finding out more of the details of this type of cognitive therapy. I will call you soon.

Mireya Ribas
MBA in Marketing (2005)
(Psychology major, class of 1977)

7.  deborah mitchell said on Feb. 19, 2010

Thank you for this research. Does it work with boys and how/when will the training be available to parents and others?

8.  Barbara Landau said on April 17, 2010

I was so happy to read about your project and that your findings are being put into "ACTION." I am a MSW student at NYU, and I am always looking for more sources of research and programs for younger adolescents, a time when intervention can make a huge impact on these children's lives. Bravo! Where can I find out more about what you learned?