Modelling psychosocial influences on the distress and impairment caused by psychotic-like experiences in children and adolescents.


Psychological understanding of psychotic-like experiences (PLEs) occurring in childhood is limited, with no recognised conceptual framework to guide appropriate intervention. We examined the contribution to PLE severity of emotional, cognitive and socio-environmental mechanisms thought to influence the development and maintenance of psychosis. Forty 8-14 year olds referred to a community Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service completed a battery of questionnaires and assessments measuring severity of PLEs, emotional problems, cognitive biases, and negative life events. 85 % of children assessed reported having experienced a PLE over the previous year; and 55 % reported more than one. 60 % had experienced at least one in the previous fortnight. Multiple linear regression demonstrated that each of the variables made a significant and independent contribution to PLE severity, after adjusting for verbal ability and age, accounting together for more than half of the variance (reasoning B = 6.324, p = .049; emotion B = 1.807, p = .005; life events B = 4.039, p = .001). PLEs were common in this clinical sample of children. Psychological factors implicated in the development and maintenance of psychosis in adults were also associated with PLE severity in these children. PLE severity may be reduced by targeting each of these factors in cognitive therapy, at this very early stage. Any improvements in emotional wellbeing and functioning may then increase future resilience.