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Review of "Helping Students Overcome Depression and Anxiety"

By Kenneth W. Merrell
Guilford Press, 2008
Review by Wendy C. Hamblet, Ph.D., SAC (Dip.) on Dec 2nd 2008
Helping Students Overcome Depression and Anxiety

Counselors, whether serving as support professionals in private practice or in the public social service or mental health industry, often find it difficult, in the context of the mushrooming mental health epidemic in the industrialized West, to remain on the cutting edge of mental health theory, once they have become engaged in the generally overwhelming workloads of their professional positions. The difficulty is even greater for those professionals treating mental health disorders in children and adolescents. There exists scant research into mental health in children and adolescents, studies of depression and anxiety in this age group are scarce, and few resources are allocated toward filling this void, because only lately have professionals been prepared to admit that children and young adolescents could indeed suffer from these types of mental disorders.

Professionals working in schools, private youth counseling, and public family services find themselves in great need of a thorough but readily accessible guidebook that collects current data, assesses its implications, advises regarding topical theories, and offers a selection of practical strategies for treating depression and anxiety in the young people they serve. These benefits are precisely what Kenneth Merrell gives us in his Helping Students to Overcome Depression and Anxiety: A Practical Guide, now in its second edition. †Merrell intends his guidebook as a readily accessible resource to fill the unfortunate gap in practical supports for service professionals working directly with at-risk children and adolescents.

Merrell offers in this work a comprehensive survey of the budding literature on the subject, available programs for addressing the growing crisis in children's mental health, and, especially impressive, a smorgasbord of technical responses for prevention and intervention. First, Merrell carefully delineates his subject by clarifying the language of his study, distinguishing internalizing problems (depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, and somatic problems) from externalizing disorders (acting out and aggressive responses). He follows this wealth of theory with a series of vignettes describing actual cases he has handled in his practice with children and adolescents. This applied study renders more palpable the problems he is addressing and more comprehensible the treatments he is proposing. Merrell then discusses in dense detail the plethora of factors giving rise to internalizing disorders, from biological influences, family problems, psychological stressors in life events to cognitive and behavioral influences. A comprehensive analysis of the symptoms and consequences of internalizing problems is then compared and contrasted to closely related disorders.

Merrell's guidebook is an excellent refresher course for professionals working in the field of child and adolescent counseling. The strongest benefit of this guidebook resides in the wealth of intervention techniques that are outlined in great detail and complemented with tracking charts and self-scoring registers, to map client successes and challenges. Merrell's practical strategies include cognitive therapy interventions, rational-emotive therapies, attribution retraining strategies, learned optimism training, and journal exercises, as well as relaxation training techniques, modeling exercises, mappings of anxiety hierarchies, and desensitization techniques. This broad spectrum allows the mental health professional to design a therapeutic program to fit the special needs of each young patient, learning to cope with and overcome anxiety and depression disorders.

Positive attitudes lead to positive thinking and positive change in a young person's state of well-being, and strategies for developing and maintaining positive attitudes can be explicitly taught and learned, then applied during the new challenges that arise during difficult life moments. Conditioning in the direction of positive thinking and self-empowerment is the core of Merrell's approach. He reports a high rate of success in emotionally retraining his own young patients, through simple but concerted applications of unique combinations of a number of practical strategies, fully outlined in his book.

Merrell's guidebook offers the professional mental health counselor a wealth of options for treatments of depression and anxiety in young people. But parents and teachers as well would greatly benefit from keeping this guidebook on hand and applying its various innovative strategies in helping their young wards to deal successfully with an increasingly alienating and isolating, industrialized, consumerist world.

© 2008 Wendy C. Hamblet

Wendy C. Hamblet, Ph.D., SAC (Dip.), North Carolina A&T State

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