Childhood Emotional Disorder Unit

Childhood Emotional Disorder Unit

Mind Area


What do we do?

We manage emotions in children and adolescents for good health

Emotions form part of our lives and involve a profound but ephemeral variation of mood. They are generated in response to an external or internal event. Experiencing an emotion involves a set of cognitions, attitudes and beliefs about the world and how we relate to it.

There are basic categories of emotions that are easier to identify, including fear, anger, sadness, joy, disgust and surprise. Each of them has a very important adaptive function. Knowing how to manage them properly implies knowing how to regulate yourself emotionally and this is one of the most important skills that should be acquired in childhood and adolescence to have complete physical and mental well-being.

We must remember that a large part of emotional regulation originates from the interaction of genetics with the environment and, from a relational aspect, the patterns of attachment that are established will have a relevant role.

We talk about emotional problems when the child or adolescent does not know how to handle emotions, and these intensify and last over time, especially those considered negative (fear, anger etc.) Depending on age, emotional problems will be manifested by internalising (anxious-depressive) or externalising behavioral symptoms, from tantrums (normal but immature way in which children aged 3 to 4 express their anger) to more complex forms such as opposition (beyond what is considered normal according to evolutionary development), explosions of anger or aggressiveness.

This is why prevention through early detection in the most vulnerable children and adolescents is essential to avoid certain types of psychopathology in the future.

Among the emotional disturbances that stand out:

  • Separation anxiety is defined as excessive anxiety related to the child being separated from people they are associated with (usually the parents and especially the mother) and being separated from home and other relatives. 
  • Social hypersensitivity or fear and distrust of strangers that produces excessive anxiety and prevents normal social relationships.
  •  Sibling rivalry which appears a few months after the birth of the younger sibling. The older sibling shows jealousy and rivalry towards the younger sibling and constantly tries to compete.
  • Childhood depression is a mood disorder that is highly disabling and leads to a high level of distress. However, if we take into account the lack of emotional maturity and the lack of resources to manage their own emotions, we understand that in children this disorder can greatly interfere in their development. The symptoms are depressive mood, lack of interest, lack of energy, changes in psychomotor development, appetite and weight disorders and somatic complaints.

All these emotional difficulties can have repercussions at a cognitive, somatic, behavioural and emotional level:

  • Cognitive (excessive and persistent worries).
  • Behavioural (resistance or refusal to follow rules of behaviour such as going to school or elsewhere, refusing to sleep alone etc.).
  • Somatic (stomach aches, headaches, recurring nightmares, nausea).
  • Emotional (crying, irritation, anxiety and distress).
parallax background

Services portfolio: A programme for each individual

Individual and Group Treatment of Emotional Disorders

  • Relationship problems, isolation, shyness.
  • A difficult child.
  • A shy child.
  • Tantrums and impulsivity. Disobedient behaviour
  • Childhood depression.
  • Anxiety and excessive worries.
  • Negative and challenging behaviour.
  • Separation and family conflict.
  • Sibling rivalry.
  • Harassment and bullying.
  • Tics, manias and obsessions.
  • Digital addictions.

Unit manager

Dr María José Penzol

Dr María José Penzol has a medical degree in Medicine and Surgery from the Complutense University of Madrid (1994). She is a specialist in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (Portugal, 2001, under EU directives) and a specialist in Psychiatry (Spain, 2011). She holds a Master of Science (MSc) degree from the Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) at Maudsley-Kings College London (KCL) (London, 2006).

She has extensive clinical experience, a result of 20 years dedicated to the psychiatric care of children, adolescents and their families in several hospitals in Portugal and Spain. Dr María José Penzol is also a psychotherapist with training in Systemic Family Therapy and Group Psychodrama Therapy. She served as director of the Child and Youth Psychiatry Service at the Infante D. Pedro de Aveiro Hospital (Portugal) between 2006 and 2009. In 2010 she led the child and youth psychiatry consultation at the Teresa Herrera Mother and Child Hospital in La Coruña.

Since 2012 she has been working at the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Gregorio Marañón University Hospital (HGUGM), first as a researcher hired by the Gregorio Marañón Health Research Institute (IiSGM) and as of January 2018 as a psychiatrist, performing her clinical activity in the Comprehensive Medical Care programme for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (AMI-TEA). Since June 2019, she has been a psychiatrist for the HGUGM Intensive Mental Health Treatment Programme for Adolescents (PrISMA). She has been responsible for coordinating different clinical research projects at national and international level.

Since 2014 she has been a researcher at CIBERSAM. Dr María José Penzol’s research activity focuses mainly on the interaction of genetic and environmental factors in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and First-Episode Psychosis (FEP), in addition to other areas such as Behavioural Disorders in children and adolescents and psychopharmacological interventions in child and adolescent mental health. She is currently developing her doctoral thesis work in the doctoral programme in Molecular Medicine at the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC), with the title "Functional Gastrointestinal Disorder in Autism Spectrum Disorders: a study of environmental genetic interaction” under professors Dr Ángel Carracedo and Dr Mara Parellada.

Av. de Alberto de Alcocer, 5, Ground floor
28036 Madrid - Spain

Tel: +34 919 991 160

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