USF gets $1.2 M federal grant to assess behavior therapy for anxious children

The study will be conducted at three community health centers across Florida

Tampa, FL (Feb. 8, 2012) — A new $1.2-million federal grant to USF Health will help disseminate evidence-based psychological treatments for anxious children to three community mental health centers across Florida.

The three-year grant from the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research will allow University of South Florida pediatric clinical psychologist Dr. Eric Storch and colleagues to test the feasibility and effectiveness of a computer-assisted cognitive behavioral therapy protocol in community mental health centers.

The three federally and state-funded centers participating in the study are:

• Directions for Mental Health —  Largo
• Henderson Behavioral Health —  Fort Lauderdale
• Access Behavioral Health, a Division of Lakeview Center, Inc. — Pensacola

Dr. Eric Storch

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, involves exposing a patient to what they fear in controlled, graduated doses in an attempt to decrease their anxiety over time and prevent an avoidant or compulsive response.  Studies by USF Health researchers and others have shown that the therapy is as effective as medications in reducing anxiety in children and adolescents, even when accompanied by complicating conditions such as autism or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

However, staff in community mental health centers may not be trained in CBT, and patients in outlying areas typically often must travel to a center that specializes in this method of behavioral psychotherapy. Both factors limit access to CBT for many underserved youngsters suffering from often disabling anxiety, said Dr. Storch, an associate professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the USF Health Rothman Center for Neuropsychiatry.

 “We know cognitive behavioral therapy works very well in children and adolescents with anxiety disorders. It does so safely, without the risk of side effects, but unfortunately this proven treatment option is often not being used in frontline community settings,” Dr. Storch. “This study may help change that.”

The first phase of the grant will focus on refining and evaluating the practicality of a multi-session protocol in which an interactive computer program assists the community mental health therapist in helping a child use CBT techniques to diffuse anxiety.

The second phase is a randomized controlled trial to compare the outcomes of children who receive computer-assisted CBT to those who receive the usual care, which could include medications and/or other types of talk therapy. An independent evaluator will assess whether computer-assisted CBT results in less severe symptoms of anxiety and reduced remission rates. 

The trial expects to recruit 128 children, ages 7 to 13, across the three centers.

For more information on the community mental health CBT study, please contact Erika Crawford at or 727-767-7376.

– USF Health –

USF Health’s mission is to envision and implement the future of health. It is the partnership of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, the College of Nursing, the College of Public Health, the College of Pharmacy, the School of Biomedical Sciences and the School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences; and the USF Physician’s Group. The University of South Florida is a global research university ranked 34th in federal research expenditures for public universities.