The Youth Anxiety Center is a clinical and research collaboration of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and Weill Cornell Medical College. The goal of the collaboration is to better understand how anxiety affects youth and young adults as they transition out of the home into independent living, and when needed, to provide treatment to youth and their families to facilitate a successful transition to college, work, and independent living.
The treatment needs of older teens and young adults with anxiety disorders have not been fully understood or recognized. In the past, these young people have often been misdiagnosed. The Youth Anxiety Center is committed to a better understanding of anxiety disorders as they develop over time and to developing innovative treatment strategies to address the needs of this special population of anxious youth.
The transition from adolescence to adulthood is fraught with naturally occurring anxiety and mood symptoms. However, excessive anxiety, and also depression, can stall a healthy transition and keep the emerging adult stuck with being dependent on his or her on family. These young adults may start to lag behind their friends as they begin to enter college, handle romance, and make their way in the world.
Parenting is an interactive process. In families affected by anxiety disorders, parental over-involvement may occur and is often fueled by the parents’ desire to help their children. The parents’ ongoing involvement then inadvertently interferes with the young adult’s self-image and ability to take on things independently and actually bolsters the anxiety parents seek to mitigate, rather than helping to lessen these symptoms.
The psychotherapy that is usually given to people with severe anxiety disorders is quite distinct. The aim is to carefully allow the patient to feel anxious while they are with their therapist and then teach them different approaches to calm themselves, such as relaxation and breathing exercises. However, that approach is not always effective. Within the Youth Anxiety Center is the new “Launching Emerging Adult Program” (LEAP). LEAP is an enhanced form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, with specific progressive modules added as appropriate to engage parents and young adults to work together and meet the developmental goals of young adulthood. As the young adult learns to manage anxiety through individual and group therapy, the parents and young adult are assisted in setting goals and communicating. Families are educated when it is appropriate when to let go so that their son or daughter can take on and manage challenges independently.
When you listen carefully, you hear that youth with anxiety put themselves down, feel that they don't measure up to expectations, worry a lot about failure, and need much reassurance and extra encouragement to take on the tasks that their peers are completing. Parents often notice the things that their son or daughter are not doing such as organizing friends to get together, taking on internships or tasks with enthusiasm, dating, laughing, pushing back against curfews and family rules that teens are outgrowing, and talking with enthusiasm about school or college. All too often, parents find that they are staying too involved and doing too much for their adolescent or young adult, as compared to their peers. The parents remain overinvolved so that their son or daughter won't miss out on important life events, but then wonder "When will s/he do this on her own?”