Little Treatments, Promising Effects? Meta-Analysis of Single-Session Interventions for Youth Psychiatric Problems

Jessica L. Schleider*, John R. Weisz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

201 Scopus citations


Objective Despite progress in the development of evidence-based interventions for youth psychiatric problems, up to 75% of youths with mental health needs never receive services, and early dropout is common among those who do. If effective, then single-session interventions (SSIs) for youth psychiatric problems could increase the accessibility, scalability, completion rates, and cost-effectiveness of youth mental health services. This study assessed the effects of SSIs for youth psychiatric problems. Method Using robust variance estimation to address effect size (ES) dependency, findings from 50 randomized-controlled trials (10,508 youths) were synthesized. Results Mean postintervention ES showed a Hedges g value equal to 0.32; the probability that a youth receiving SSI would fare better than a control-group youth was 58%. Effects varied by several moderators, including target problem: ESs were largest for anxiety (0.56) and conduct problems (0.54) and weakest for substance abuse (0.08; targeted in >33% of studies). Other problems yielded numerically promising but nonsignificant ESs (e.g., 0.21 for depression), potentially from low representation across trials. ESs differed across control conditions, with larger ESs for studies with no treatment (0.41) versus active controls (0.14); developmental periods, with greater ESs for children (0.42) than adolescents (0.19); intervention types, with largest ESs for youth-focused cognitive-behavioral approaches (0.74); and follow-up lengths, with smaller ESs for follow-ups exceeding 13 weeks. ESs did not differ for self- versus therapist-administered interventions or for youths with diagnosable versus subclinical problems. Conclusion Findings support the promise of SSIs for certain youth psychiatric problems and the need to clarify how, to what degree, and for whom SSIs effect lasting change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-115
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017


  • child mental health
  • intervention
  • meta-analysis
  • single-session intervention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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