Researchers develop new guidance for the remote delivery of psychological therapy to children

Psychologists from Queen Mary University of London have created a free online resource for mental health services now looking to deliver psychological therapy to children remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Boy using phone. Credit: Rouzes/
Boy using phone. Credit: Rouzes/

The guidance, created with collaborators at the American University of Beirut, Médecins du Monde and Johns Hopkins University, draws on the researchers’ experience adapting an existing psychological treatment to phone delivery for Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon as part of an ongoing clinical research study.

Whilst the resource is especially relevant for those working in refugee or other low resource settings, the researchers suggest this guidance can be adopted by children’s mental health services worldwide who are now transitioning to online or phone delivery due to Covid-19.

Professor Michael Pluess, Professor of Psychology at Queen Mary, said: "Initially we had some reservations around how successful remote delivery of an existing treatment would be, however we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well the remote treatment programme has worked so far with Syrian refugee children. Whilst we’re still waiting for the complete results of our study, we’ve developed this guidance to support the many practitioners that now need to deliver psychological treatment via phone or other remote technologies.”

Transitioning to remote delivery

While some existing psychological therapies have been specifically developed for phone delivery, most of the current mental health treatments for children have been designed for face-to-face and in-person delivery and have not undergone the specific adaptation and evaluation processes for delivery over the phone, or via video calls.

The resource covers topics such as developing safety protocols and managing risk over the phone, adapting therapy to maintain child engagement and tips to manage specific practical and treatment-related challenges that can arise during therapy. 

Whilst the guidance proposes a number of specific solutions to support mental health services transitioning to remote delivery, the researchers outline that is important for each service to adapt these to create protocols appropriate for their specific setting, population, and type of therapy.

Dr Fiona McEwen, Postdoctoral Researcher at Queen Mary, said: “Through the delivery of our research project, we’ve already learnt a great deal in terms of what does and doesn’t work when it comes to delivering treatment remotely to children. We hope that by sharing our guiding principles we can help mental health services to deliver safe and effective therapy remotely and ensure that children worldwide continue to receive the treatment they need in these challenging circumstances.”

More information 

For media information, contact:

Sophie McLachlan
Faculty Communications Manager (Science and Engineering)