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The @school project

Developmental considerations in the design and delivery of cognitive-behavioural therapy for adolescent school refusal

Floor Sauter
23 June 2010


School refusal is an attendance problem characterized by a young person’s difficulty in going to school, accompanied by emotional distress on the part of the young person and parental attempts to return the young person to regular school attendance. Prolonged absence from school has serious short- and long-term consequences for young people, their families, and schools. Therefore, effective treatment of school refusal is essential. Numerous treatment outcome studies provide evidence for the efficacy of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) for school refusal. Previous research has however indicated that adolescent school refusers may be particularly disturbed and harder to treat. An existing treatment for school-refusing children and adolescents was modified to better account for the impact of developmental variables on engagement in treatment. The studies presented in this dissertation describe the preparation, implementation, and evaluation of the resulting developmentally-appropriate CBT for adolescent school refusal. The treatment was associated with increased school attendance, reduced emotional symptoms, and increased adolescent and parental self-efficacy. Exploratory analyses revealed that several developmental factors were related to treatment outcomes, namely clinician developmental appropriateness, insight, and autonomy. Recommendations for research and clinical practice are made on the basis of these findings, and on the methodological strengths and limitations of the current research.

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