COMPASS for Courage: A 30-Year Scientific Journey

The Theoretical Foundation of COMPASS

Building from the work of Dr. Wendy Silverman at Yale University, Dr. Armando Pina at Arizona State University, and their research teams, the scientific foundations underlying COMPASS for Courage represents more than 30 years of research. (And growing!).

In the 1990’s, Dr. Silverman and her team established some of the original frameworks for the conceptualization, assessment, and treatment of youth anxiety and phobic disorders. Dr. Silverman’s approach was grounded in cognitive and behavioral treatment theory, with her and her team publishing some of the very first randomized controlled trials for the treatment of anxiety in youth.

In the early 2000’s, Dr. Pina joined Dr. Silverman as a doctoral student. With Dr. Silverman, he sharpened his expertise in developmental psychology, youth anxiety, and evidence-based approaches for ethnic minority youth. Later, and building from Dr. Silverman’s formative work, Dr. Pina and his team at Arizona State University developed one of the only culturally-sensitive CBT treatments that works for anxious ethnic minority youth.

Shifting to Prevention and Early Intervention

In the 2010’s, our co-creator, Dr. Ryan Stoll joined Dr. Pina’s research lab at ASU. Around this same time, Dr. Pina was awarded research grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and Institute of Mental Health Research to adapt his treatment into an early intervention and prevention solution.

In 2012, building from positive preliminary randomized clinical trial data, the formative work for what is now – COMPASS for Courage. This work focused on learning directly from school administrators, mental health professionals, youth, and families how we could package our science into a program that could be sustainable, scalable, and feasible for communities.

We gathered needs assessments and conducted multiple focus groups with key leaders and mental health champions across disorders using social network influence analysis. Our goal was to learn what it would take to make anxiety prevention a success for youth AND schools – the barriers, the needs, the wants, the strengths, the assets.

We believed that we understood the science of what works but our community understood how it needed to live in the world, to work.

From REACH for Success to COMPASS for Courage

From here, we adapted Dr. Pina’s original 12-hour intervention that used “traditional” CBT techniques into a 3-hour intervention that used “gamified” CBT approaches, using the insight provided by our community partners. This first-generation program was called REACH for Success – a name given to the program by school partners on account of the impact anxiety has on lifelong learning, achievement, and success.

In a randomized controlled trial across 9 schools, the results were even more than we’d hoped for. The results were more than we’d even hoped for. Immediately after the six lesson program and with benefits growing up to a full year later, REACH youth reported…

  • Reduced anxiety symptoms and disorder risk
  • Improved confidence for handling anxious situations
  • Reduced anxious worries (including specific to tests)
  • Fewer anxiety-related somatic complaints
  • Enhanced social and communication skills
  • Improved emotion awareness and expression

After this initial success, Ryan took the lead to further iterate REACH to bring it out of the research world and into the “real world” while a PhD student working with Dr. Pina. Using his passion for design, mental health, and entrepreneurship, Ryan transformed REACH into COMPASS for Courage, forming an community-focused and consumer-friendly program.

COMPASS for Courage was created in direct response to the lack of easy-to-use, sustainable, and fun programs to help kids manage their worries, find their courage, and thrive in everything that they do. Our mission is to child and teens overcome anxiety, cultivate courage, and build resilience by providing evidence-based tools, strategies, and education to the individuals that are already changing their world: Educators, school staff, parents, and community leaders.

COMPASS for Courage exists to help humanity thrive. Our mission is audaciously large and drives everything that we do. We care deeply about the results of our work, our customers, and our mission. We dont do this out of obligation, we do it from a sense of purpose.

We’re now in more than 50 schools, helping hundreds of anxious youth every year, and we plan to scale across the nation in the next few years. But COMPASS never would have come into existence if it wasn’t for the pioneering work of Dr. Silverman and the practical persistence of Dr. Pina.

Do you want to address youth anxiety more effectively?

Evidence-based intervention to teach youth anxiety-management skills in schools, private practice, or community clinics

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