What is Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology?

Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology deals with specific behavioral problems, mental disorders and psychological aspects of physical illnesses in childhood and adolescence, from birth to adulthood. Their theoretical understanding is characterized by a “developmental psycho-pathological” perspective and emphasizes the temporary aspect of maladaptive behavior. Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology builds on research studies on normal and deviant behavior from the developmental perspective, but also on other psychological, biological and sociological disciplines in order to gain a better understanding of causes, processes and treatment of behavioral problems, psychological crisis and disorders in childhood and adolescence.


From the experimental fundamental research to intervention research

The goal of the research group is the study of causes and therapy of emotional disorders in childhood. The research questions are pursued using various methodological approaches. Thus, cross-sectional and longitudinal studies are carried out by the research group and, in addition to questionnaire and interview surveys, experimental studies are used, some of which are supplemented by psychophysiological and psychobiological investigations.. Current studies include the following topics:


- Familial transmission of anxiety disorders
- Etiology and treatment of separation anxiety disorder in childhood and other anxiety disorders
- Cognitive impairment in children with anxiety disorders - Body image disturbances in eating disorders
- Distortions in the report of mental disorders in childhood and adolescence - Acceptance of structured interviews by patients and psychotherapists
- Validation of quality criteria of structured interviews developed by the research group
- Development and validation of diagnostic instruments for evaluation of behavioral disorders in early childhood and preschool age



Two concrete research examples

How does the emotional state of a mother impact the behavior of her baby? The research group is investigating this question in a behavioral observation study. Mothers and their 8-13-month-old babies are invited for two appointments to the behavioral observation laboratory. Both times,the mothers watch a video clip: one with threatening content and one with neutral content (nature film). Measurements immediately after the film ensure either an anxious or neutral mood. Subsequent to the mood-induction, mother and baby go through an experiment with a visual cliff (fig. cliff). The visual cliff is a table covered with plexiglass, which appears to drop in the middle of the table (“cliff”). With the age of about eight months, babies are able to realize the cliff, which causes insecurity and confirmation behavior (e.g., eye contact to the mother). At the beginning of the experiment, the child will be put at the “high” side of the cliff whereas the mother stands at the “deep” end of the cliff-table and encourages the child to cross the cliff. The research group was able to show that depending on the emotional state of the mother (anxious vs. neutral) the time the child needs to cross the table varies: The child needs a longer time to cross the cliff if the mother is in an anxious emotional state. This experiment impressively demonstrates how a mother’s mood significantly influences her baby’s behavior and thus contributes to a better understanding of involved processes in the context of familial transmission of emotional disorders.

Does successful psychological treatment of anxiety disorders in childhood require the involvement of parents? The research group pursues this question in a therapy-study sponsored by the Swiss National Science Foundation. Children (aged 8- 13 years) with clinically relevant separation anxiety (e.g., the child is not able to go to school, sleep in own bed) take part in this study in one of two variants of behavioural therapy. While one half of the children are treated without the involvement of their parents, the other half include children and parents with the same "dosage" of behavioural therapy. The allocation to the two treatment settings is random. All therapies are carried out by specially trained behavioural therapists according to a detailed treatment manual. The change in the symptoms of separation anxiety is measured over the course of the therapy and 4 weeks, 1 year and 2 years after completion of therapy. The results show that both treatment settings are very successful and do not differ in the measurement of success. Contrary to what was originally expected, these results indicate that separation anxiety in children can also be treated without the involvement of parents.
(Schneider et al 2013)



The Department of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology does not live in an ivory tower. It is actively involved in the advanced education and training of psychologists and physicians and is involved in the development of treatment guidelines for mental disorders in childhood and adolescence. The department cooperates with public health care institutes and endeavors to disseminate research outcomes of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology research. The Center for Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy offers evidence-based treatments for children with mental disorders and improves the conditions for research and teaching. This contributes to the dissemination of the results of clinical, psychological research into routine care.