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Eric Storch receives Fulbright Award for pediatric anxiety research project in El Salvador

USF Health’s Eric Storch, PhD, has been awarded a highly competitive Fulbright Scholar Flex Award, which will allow him to partner with two pediatric clinics and a university in El Salvador to study and disseminate effective psychological care for anxious children.  His three-year award begins July 1.

Dr. Storch is the All Children’s Hospital Guild Endowed Chair and a professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.

The Flex Award enables scholars to make several, short-term visits to a host country over two to three years to complete a collaborative international research project as well as give public talks, participate in seminars, mentor students and engage with the host country’s academic community.

Eric Storch_RSS
                                                                      Eric Storch, PhD

Anxiety disorders are among the most common childhood psychiatric disorders, and the World Health Organization has prioritized making effective treatment for this often disabling condition more accessible to underserved children suffering from anxiety in emerging countries.

Dr. Storch will train and consult with clinicians in El Salvador to develop their expertise in providing cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, an evidence-based psychological treatment for childhood anxiety. Studies by USF Health researchers and others have shown that CBT is as effective as medications in reducing anxiety in children and adolescents, without the risk of side effects, even when accompanied by complicating conditions such as autism or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“Unfortunately, CBT availability has been limited to those living in high-income countries with virtually no dissemination of this approach to emerging regions such as El Salvador, where children are often exposed to a vast range of risk factors associated with childhood psychopathology, especially violence and poverty,” Dr. Storch said. “If it succeeds in reducing anxiety symptoms and related functional impairment, this project has the potential to promote a more successful life trajectory for many anxious youth.”

Working with master’s-level students and faculty from the Universidad José Matias Delgado, Dr. Storch will lead a randomized, controlled study to investigate the effectiveness of implementing CBT into El Salvadorian mental health settings, including satisfaction and costs associated with delivering the therapy.  The researchers will also investigate the prevalence of and risk factors for mental health disorders in El Salvador, as well as attitudes toward mental health problems.

Dr. Storch has served as the principal or co-principal investigator for six federally-funded studies investigating behavioral psychotherapy for pediatric anxiety.  He is the lead investigator for a new three-year multisite National Institutes of Health grant, which teams USF with UCLA and Temple University to study treating anxiety in children with autism spectrum disorders.

The Fulbright Scholar Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.