New research finds that using cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) combined with a “transdiagnostic” approach allows therapists to apply one set of principles across anxiety all disorders and provides the most improvement.
Peter Norton, PhD, associate professor in clinical psychology and director of the Anxiety Disorder Clinic at the University of Houston, after a decade of research in CBT, concludes that therapists treating people with anxiety disorders may effectively use a treatment that applies one set of principals across all types of anxiety disorders. The findings are the result of four separate clinical trials and the completion of a five-year grant funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.
Norton defines anxiety disorders as when anxiety and fear are so overwhelming that it can start to negatively impact a person’s day-to-day life. He notes anxiety disorders include: panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder, specific phobias and generalized anxiety disorder. Often anxiety disorders occur with a secondary illness, such as depression, substance or alcohol abuse. Norton says there are targeted treatments for each diagnosis, but there has been little recognition that the treatments don’t differ much, and they only differ in very specific ways.
According to Dr Norton, “What I realized is that I could open a group to people with anxiety disorders in general and develop a treatment program regardless of the artificial distinctions between social phobia and panic disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, and focus on the core underlying things that are going wrong.”
He states that what he has learned from his research is that “if you treat your principal diagnosis, such as social phobia and you hate public speaking, you are going to show improvement on some of your secondary diagnosis. Your mood is going to get a little better, your fear of heights might dissipate. So there is some effect there, but what we find is when we approach things with a transdiagnostic approach, we see a much bigger impact on comorbid diagnoses. In my research study, over two-thirds of comorbid diagnoses went away, versus what we typically we find when I’m treating a specific diagnosis such as a panic disorder, where only about 40 percent of people will show that sort of remission in their secondary diagnosis. The transdiagnostic treatment approach is more efficient in treating the whole person rather than just treating the diagnosis, then treating the next diagnoses.”