A Short-term Intervention to Improve Emotion-processing Skills in Adolescents with Callous-Unemotional Traits
Lui, Joyce H. L.
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Research documents a robust relation between callous-unemotional (CU) traits and impairments in emotion recognition and perspective-taking in youth. However, few evidence-based treatments targeting these specific deficits exist for individuals with CU traits. Treatment for youth with CU traits generally focuses on behavioral functioning (e.g., decreasing delinquency or antisocial behaviors), but these youth often do not respond adequately to standard treatments. Existing interventions may be missing adaptations to the distinct emotional processing deficits associated with CU traits. The current study attempts to address this gap by examining a novel short-term intervention to target emotion processing deficits in adolescents with CU traits. An Emotion-Processing Skills Training (EPST) program was developed to address emotion recognition and perspective-taking deficits. Fifty-six adolescents aged 16 to 18 attending a residential program were randomly assigned to receive the EPST intervention or treatment as usual (TAU) in the residential program. Assessments were conducted at four time points and involved multiple informants (i.e., adolescents, parents, peers, program data, and staff). Path analytic models indicated that participants across both conditions demonstrated improvements in emotion recognition, affective perspective-taking, and self-reported social and externalizing problems from baseline to post-treatment. Unexpectedly, participants also demonstrated significant decrease in CU traits over time. There was little improvement in empathy or prosocial behaviors. Participants in the EPST condition demonstrated better functioning relative to participants in the TAU condition on some assessments. Overall, the EPST intervention was effective at improving affective, social, and behavioral functioning, as well as CU traits among adolescents, and it yielded comparable or greater improvements than TAU. Implications for treatment for adolescents with CU traits are discussed.