Monday, June 12, 2023

School-Based Group Therapy Shows Mental Health Benefits for Teen Girls of Color

Black and Hispanic/Latinx teen girls who participated in a school-based group counseling program for a few months saw mental health improvements, including a reduction in symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression, a study in Science Advances has found. The study, which included more than 3,700 girls from 10 Chicago public high schools, also provides evidence that the counseling program—called Working on Womanhood (WOW)—is cost-effective and scalable.

“The burden of mental health is often unseen and overlooked, particularly for young women of color, in part because it is not always associated with externalizing behaviors,” wrote Monica Bhatt, Ph.D., of the University of Chicago and colleagues. “This study marks one of the first studies of adolescent mental health for young women of color [and] ... provides rigorous evidence about how to systematically reduce the prevalence of these challenges at scale through an innovative, group-based, in-school model of therapy.”

The WOW program—which the authors noted was “designed specifically by and for Black and Latinx women”—includes 39 group lessons designed around five themes: self-awareness, emotional intelligence, healthy relationships, visionary goal setting, and leadership. The WOW curriculum incorporates elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and narrative therapy. Each group of 10 to 15 high school girls meets with a master-level WOW counselor once a week during an elective period. WOW counselors provide individual therapy and/or refer students for additional services, if needed.

For this study, Bhatt and colleagues enrolled 3,749 girls from 10 public schools located in Chicago’s south or west sides prior to the 2017-2018 academic year; 1,232 of the girls received WOW during the year while 2,517 had access to all standard services and electives. About 85% of students were Black and/or Hispanic/Latinx. About 600 students were randomly selected to fill out a comprehensive baseline survey on mental and physical health measures in the fall of 2017; just over 2,000 were selected for a follow-up survey after May 2018.

Students who participated in the WOW group experienced a 22% drop in PTSD symptom severity, a 14% drop in depression severity, and a 10% drop in anxiety severity, Bhatt and colleagues wrote.

“These benefits were achieved within the challenging real-world environment of 10 Chicago public high schools,” they continued. “At a per-participant cost of $2,300, WOW provides one promising model that can be replicated at scale within resource-challenged public schools across the country.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Psychiatrists Call for Action After CDC Data Reveal Worsening of Youth Mental Health Crisis” and the Psychiatric Services article “Schools As a Vital Component of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health System.”

(Image: iStock/SDI Productions)


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