Prof guest edits special journal issue devoted to perfectionism in youth

Gordon Flett

York psychology Professor Gordon Flett, a Canada Research Chair in Personality and Health, is guest editor of a special issue of the Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy dealing with perfectionism.

“There is now growing evidence that perfectionism is implicated in a wide range of problems in children and adolescents, and this is further documented in the special issue. We are talking about a societal problem that Gordon Flettseems to be growing,” says Flett, an associate member of the LaMarsh Centre for Child & Youth Research.

Gordon Flett

Released online during Mental Health Week, the Special Issue: Perfectionism and Cognitive Factors in Distress and Dysfunction in Children and Adolescents, is the first ever special issue on perfectionism in children and adolescents, as far as Flett is aware. The print version is due out in June.

“I have been getting contacted regularly by parents who are searching for help for their perfectionistic son or daughter with mental health difficulties.  It is particularly unfortunate that perfectionism is being linked with suicidal tendencies in some young people,” says Flett.

In the introduction, Flett and Paul Hewitt of the University of British Columbia, explore the themes of the issue, including the relevance of having a multidimensional approach to studying perfectionism in children and youth, and the role of perfectionism in maladaptive coping and self-regulation.

The issue also looks at the usefulness of cognitive-behavioural interventions for perfectionistic children and adolescents at risk for anxiety and depression. This intervention research, involving 78 school-age children, was conducted with researchers from the Hospital for Sick Children and Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences. It found that study participation resulted in overall improvements, but high initial levels of perfectionism impeded the effectiveness of the subsequent intervention, says Flett.

Flett and Hewitt provide an overview of past research and theory, which highlights the role of perfectionism in developmental psychopathology and points to case studies illustrating dysfunctional perfectionism in children and adolescents.

“We also study socially prescribed perfectionism, the pressure imposed on us to be perfect, and many people can relate to the sense of pressure associated with having to deal with unrealistic expectancies,” says Flett.

The journal article, “Perfectionism, Coping, Social Support and Depression in Maltreated Adolescents”, by Flett, Hewitt, Tamara Druckman and Christine Wekerle, details a study that found through correlated analysis that depression was associated with socially prescribed perfectionism, internalized emotion-oriented coping, avoidant-oriented distancing, and low family support and peer support. Flett notes that children and adolescents who experience abuse can become more perfectionistic to avoid further maltreatment, but their results indicate that this perfectionistic approach can be problematic due to the link that perfectionism has with maladaptive coping tendencies and low perceived social support.

“The special issue itself has a number of unique papers that I feel will add further impetus and interest in studying perfectionism in kids,” says Flett.

The other articles are: “How Children’s Cognitive and Affective Responses to a Novel Task Relate to the Dimensions of Perfectionism“, “The Role of Perfectionism in Relation to an Intervention to Reduce Anxious and Depressive Symptoms in Children“, “Perfectionistic Automatic Thoughts and Psychological Distress in Adolescents: An Analysis of the Perfectionism Cognitions Inventory” and “Cognitive Errors as Predictors of Adaptive and Maladaptive Perfectionism in Children“.

For more information, visit the Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy website.