17. June 2022

Funding from Kavli Trust to evaluating mentalization-based treatment for children

The Kavli Trust Programme for Health Research has awarded The Anna Freud Centre funding to a study evaluating a mentalization-based treatment for children.

A research team at The Anna Freud Centre in London, United Kingdom, has been awarded over 9.1 million kroner (approximately £750,000) by Kavli Trust, to carry out a new study evaluating a mentalization-based treatment for children referred to mental health services in the UK.

The grant has been awarded through The Kavli Trust Programme on Health Research.

Children 6-12 years

In collaboration with University College London (UCL), Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, the study will evaluate the clinical and cost-effectiveness of Mentalization Based Treatment (MBT) in improving mental health outcomes for children aged 6-12 referred to mental health services.

MBT focuses on supporting the capacity to ‘mentalize’, in other words, making sense of the behaviour of self and others in terms of intentional states.

This capacity to mentalize has been shown to play a key role in promoting emotion regulation and supporting emotional development in children.

Professor Nick Midgley, Co-Director of the Child Attachment and Psychological Therapies Research Unit (ChAPTRe) at The Anna Freud Centre, is lead of the project.

Nick Midlgley

“As a time-limited model of therapy with children and families, MBT brings together psychodynamic principles, systemic theory, and a social ecological framework to understanding and working with families”, Professor Midgley explains.

“It is a flexible approach which can be used in clinical settings to address a range of difficulties experienced in children and families, including emotional and behavioural problems, anxiety, depression, relational difficulties, and family conflict”.

Need for evidence-based interventions’

“Given that many school-age children presenting to mental health services experience a mix of emotional and behavioural difficulties, there is a need for evidence-based interventions that target mechanisms that underlie a range of presenting problems”, says Midgley.

Emotion regulation (ER) has been identified as one such core underlying mechanism.

“However, few interventions targeting ER in school-age children have been systematically evaluated”, Midgley explains.

43 projects proposals

“This study is very well designed, and it can provide important knowledge about the effect of mentalization-based treatment for children with mixed mental health problems”, said senior advisor in The Kavli Trust Programme on Health Research, Ida Svege.

The Anna Freud Centre project was chosen as one out of three projects awarded funding in 2021, among a total of 43 project proposals addressing one or more of the predefined evidence gaps that were covered by the research programme’s 2021 call for proposals.

Thorough process

Every year new evidence gaps are selected through a thorough process, starting with a strategic scientific committee carrying out updated searches for systematic reviews in selected databases to identify significant evidence gaps in child and adolescent mental health.

“The committee identified 41 evidence gaps for the 2021 call. Then a user panel that consisted of patients, their carers and relevant health professionals, ranked the evidence gaps,” said Kavli Trust’s programme manager, Jan-Ole Hesselberg.

The 2021 call for proposals included the ten evidence gaps that were ranked highest by the user panel, meaning that all applicants were encouraged to design studies addressing one or more of the selected evidence gaps.

Read more: 2021 call for proposals and list of the evidence gaps (closed)

The Anna Freud Centre project will address the evidence gap “What is the effect of psychological interventions to improve emotion regulation in adolescents?”, angled at therapeutic interventions for children with a mix of emotional and behavioural problems.

“These children are poorly served by current evidence-based treatment guidelines, as they do not fit easily within existing frameworks”, said Professor Nick Midgley.

Gap between research and reality

Working closely with service users and families, a process evaluation will deepen understanding of what works, for whom and why, aiming to enrich understanding of young people and parents or carers’ views of what makes treatment effective.

Professor Midgley commented:

“Too often this is a gap between the way research is designed and the reality of how children present to mental health services, and how treatments are actually delivered. This project will help to ensure that the wide range of school-age children referred to mental health services get treatments that are flexible, realistic to deliver and evidence-based.”

“A global challenge”

“Kavli Trust congratulates Professor Midgley and everyone involved with the project. We are very excited about it and look forward to contributing to generating new knowledge and understanding which we hope will benefit a lot of people,” said general manager of Kavli Trust, Inger Elise Iversen.

She points out that mental health problems in young people are a global challenge causing incalculable suffering in children and families, harming long-term prospects of young people, and creating substantial economic costs to society.

“The role of emotion regulation in the development and treatment of mental health problems has increased in recent years, but studies on young people are lacking. We really hope that this project will provide valuable knowledge about interventions that can enhance emotion regulation in children and adolescents,” said Iversen.