Conduct disorder treatment

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This page was clinically reviewed by Clinical Psychologist Alison Sampson at Priory Wellbeing Centre Southampton in April 2022.

What is conduct disorder?

Conduct disorder is usually diagnosed in early childhood or adolescence, and is characterised by a young person showing longstanding disruptive and aggressive behaviours. This pattern of behaviour is a challenge to parents and teachers, as the person tends to disregard rules and isn't concerned about the consequences of their behaviour for others. The young person's conduct can lead to worsening behaviour as they grow into adulthood. At Priory, we focus on early diagnosis and treatment to help the family manage the young person's behaviour.

Treatment for conduct disorder at Priory includes behavioural and family therapy techniques. One of our specialists will conduct an assessment of the young person and their family's needs, meaning that we can deliver tailored treatment that produces the best possible outcomes. The flexible locations of Priory's hospitals and wellbeing centres, as part of our nationwide network, means you can access support for your child in a location that's convenient for you. The goal of treatment is to improve the young person's behaviour in social settings, and support parents to find the best ways to communicate and manage the young person's behaviour at home.

What are the symptoms of conduct disorder?

Depending on the age of your child and the severity of their condition, their symptoms and behaviour can vary.

Some of the most frequent symptoms and behaviours your child may display if they have conduct disorder include:

  • Aggressive behaviour

This is when your child causes physical harm to others, which may present in younger children as pushing, biting or hitting, and older children and adolescents as bullying others in school, physically harming animals or other people, picking fights frequently and turning to crime.

  • Destructive behaviour

Intentional damage or destruction of someone else’s property, which may include vandalism, arson, or deliberately breaking objects in the home.

  • Deceitful behaviour

More commonly present in older children and adolescents with conduct disorder, this can involve repeatedly lying or stealing from others after gaining their trust.

  • Breaking rules and orders

Knowingly going against the rules of society and institutions such as school or college, which can include playing pranks on others, missing school, or being sexually active at an inappropriate age.

The young person may feel gratification when they behave in an inappropriate way. Displays of aggression and a disregard for honesty can be pre-meditated and are often perceived by the young person as gaining power over others.

What causes conduct disorder?

While the exact cause of conduct disorder isn’t yet known, it's believed there are several factors which may determine whether your child is likely to develop the disorder. These include biological, genetic, social and environmental factors.

The assessment process with a Priory therapist will determine whether the young person's negative behaviours are due to learned behaviour within an abusive or troubled environment, and whether the 'gratification' aspect of the condition is evident.

Some of the factors that can play a role in your child developing conduct disorder include:


Studies have shown that injuries to certain parts of the brain that control impulses and emotions may lead to problems in your child being able to regulate their behaviour.

It's also been found that children diagnosed with conduct disorder often have other mental health conditions, such as an anxiety disorder, depression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which can worsen your child’s symptoms.


Many children and teens diagnosed with conduct disorder also have immediate family members with a history of mental illness, including anxiety disorders, addictions and personality disorders. This indicates that the likelihood of someone developing conduct disorder is at least partly influenced by genes.


An unstable or abusive home life can also contribute to a child developing conduct disorder. Traumatic experiences and close family members prone to substance abuse are thought to play a role in developing negative behaviours.


Social risk factors for conduct disorder include growing up in a household with low income, having trouble being accepted at school and experiencing academic problems.

Does my child have conduct disorder?

Many people, including teachers, peers and family members, may observe the young person being poorly behaved, without realising they could have a mental health condition. Young people with conduct disorder can often appear to be confident and forthright when they're interacting with others, although the deep seated problem is actually one of insecurity. The teen may be reacting in accordance to perceived intimidation or aggressiveness towards them.

Young children with conduct disorder typically display signs of aggressive or violent behaviour as soon as they're physically able to, including pushing, hitting or biting others. As a child develops into adolescence, behaviour may include extreme bullying of others, hurting animals, regularly starting fights, theft and vandalism.

Treatment for conduct disorder at Priory

When receiving treatment for conduct disorder at Priory, factors such as the age of your child and severity of their symptoms will impact on what type of treatment they receive and for how long.

After a full assessment, a treatment plan may combine one-to-one therapy and family therapy, with a focus on encouraging desired behaviours and managing conduct disorder in a home environment. Therapy methods for teenagers may target peer relationship skills and improvement in interaction with authority figures outside of the home. A positive change in communicating with others in less aggressive ways can increase the young person's social confidence and self-esteem and improve their behaviour.

While it can take a long time to establish new thought and behaviour patterns, early treatment can reduce the severity of symptoms or prevent the disorder progressing into adulthood.

Alongside treatment for conduct disorder, with highly experienced therapists and consultants, a healthy support system for your child both at home and in school can also help. This will aim to encourage desired emotional behaviours and re-build positive relationships with parents and peers.

Some of the talking and behavioural therapies used to treat conduct disorder in young people at Priory include:

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Particularly effective for helping your child to manage their thoughts, behaviours and mood more effectively, CBT uses an action-based and problem solving approach. The aim of CBT is to re-build the young person's ability to cope with anger, and give them skills to control impulsive behaviours.

Family therapy

Family therapy works towards helping parents to manage conduct disorder in their child and learn to communicate in ways that help them cope. Establishing a good support network for the young person will promote understanding of their individual needs. As a parent, you can play a positive role in reducing the impact of your teen's conduct. This can result in your child becoming less distressed and reducing frustration with family dynamics.


Your child can learn to express and control their anger in more socially appropriate ways through treatment with a therapist. Self-care and understanding their emotions are part of the process. Your teen will be empowered to improve their self-esteem and learn techniques to manage negative behaviours and impulses.

While medication wouldn’t usually be used in treating conduct disorder, if your child has symptoms of other mental health conditions, such as ADHD or depression for example, or particularly distressing symptoms of the disorder, specific medications may be recommended by a GP or consultant psychiatrist.

Private medical insurance

All of the services we offer at Priory can be funded through private medical insurance. This includes:

  • Mental health treatment
  • Addiction treatment
  • Eating disorder treatment

All clients will have access to our highly skilled and accredited clinicians, many of whom are published experts in the field of mental health and addiction treatment. Whatever your needs, we're committed to working with you to get your life back on track.

Registered and approved provider

We are a registered and approved provider for all of the UK's leading private medical insurers.

Conduct disorder treatment near me

We support people with conduct disorder throughout the country, meaning that you can access the support you need in a convenient location. To find your nearest conduct disorder treatment centre, please search below.

Contact us to make an enquiry or for more information

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