Health Watch: Exposure therapy for kids

MIAMI, Fla. -- Fear and anxiety ... these types of emotional disorders don't only affect adults, children deal with these feelings too. See how a type of therapy is being studied to help kids overcome their worst fears.

"When I saw a dog, I thought he was going to jump on me," Zoey Deas told Ivanhoe.

Zoey's mom said it got so bad her daughter would cross the street to avoid coming near a dog.

"Nothing is worse for a mother than to see your daughter or any child to feel that afraid," Nikki Deas, Zoey's mom, said.

Experts say certain stressors can cause fear, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive behaviors in a child or teen.

"The child starts to avoid things that are provoking that sense of distress," said Jill Ehrenreich-May, PhD, Assoc. Professor of Psychology and Director of Child and Adolescent Mood & Anxiety Treatment Program at University of Miami.

Ehrenreich-May says parents tend to help kids avoid those triggers - creating a habit.

"Let's cross the street, let's move away from it, let's not get yourself upset about this," continued Dr. Ehrenreich-May.

So she's leading a study at the University of Miami investigating whether exposure therapy can help children with emotional disorders.

Dr. Ehrenreich-May shared, "Moving toward and experiencing uncomfortable emotions instead of avoiding or moving away from them."

Zoey met with a therapist to talk about her fear. Then she was gradually introduced to pictures and videos of dogs before meeting the real thing.

"At first, Zoey would watch a dog from another room, and slowly then she became into the room," Nikki said.

After eight sessions this was the result! Zoey was able to play with Bowser without any fear or anxiety.

"He was sitting on my lap, I fed him treats, I was playing with him," Zoey said smiling.

The doctor says parents can practice exposure therapy at home, but advises you have to be very positive and patient with your child. The study funded by the national institutes of health is also training more therapists about this form of cognitive behavioral therapy. For more information please visit https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/nct02567266.