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Alternative Treatments for Conduct Disorder

Alternative Treatments for Conduct Disorder

Conduct disorder is the persistent pattern of violating the rights of others. The behaviors exhibited most commonly by children and adolescents with this mental health challenge include harming animals and people, stealing or destroying property, and lying to gain privileges. In 2001, the American Academy of Family Physicians noted that approximately 6 to 16 percent of boys and 2 to 9 percent of girls could be diagnosed with conduct disorder.

Parent Management Training

Psychologist Alan Kazdin, Ph.D., has devoted a great deal of his professional life to understanding conduct disorder. At the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic, Dr. Kazdin and his team work with parents to create an environment that is predictable, supervised, orderly and safe for each child. This is just the opposite of the chaos that many children with conduct disorder inhabit. Parent management training at Yale takes place in a very intense 2-day program with weekly 50-minute follow-up sessions either in person, by telephone or by video-session on the computer. Here parents learn that the autonomic nervous system of kids with conduct disorder functions at a lower level of activity, and requires a high degree of stimulation to feel energized and happy.

Parent management training teaches parents to discipline in a positive, consistent and supportive manner, expecting high behavioral standards and modeling what they expect.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Children with conduct disorder have a difficult time connecting the action they think they want to take with the natural, expected consequences that will result. This is a skill set that can be taught and practiced, starting with simple activities and games, first in a therapeutic group and then at home.

Another related issue for these kids is impulsiveness. They need the opportunity to practice in a "Stop-Think-Act" pattern, but they also need to replace their need for the stimulation that impulsive and high-risk activities have provided. Individual sports like swimming, gymnastics or track can provide safe ways to channel this need in a healthy way, according to Dr. H. Russell Searight and his team.


Medications are not the foundation of treatment for conduct behavior; instead, they are used to help prepare the child or teen for cognitive-behavioral therapy by removing some behavioral barriers to change, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Stimulants such as Ritalin and Dexedrine can decrease the hyperactive behaviors seen in most kids with conduct disorder, while Wellbutrin and Prozac can help increase levels of the neurotransmitter seratonin and lift depression. Depakote and Tegretol are used to control aggressive behavior and impulsive behavior, but lithium is prescribed when the actions of the child appear to be a part of bipolar disorder.

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