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Combination Treatment for Anxiety Disorders Shows Promise

The Anxiety Disorder Clinic at the University of Houston recently reported that treatment for anxiety disorders which combines Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with a “transdiagnostic” approach (one that lets psychologists apply one set of principles across many anxiety disorders in order to devise an effective treatment plan), was more effective than those that combine CBT with other forms of specific treatment for anxiety, including relaxation therapy and visualization.

As reported by Peter Norton, Associate Professor in Clinical Psychology and Director of the Clinic, there are often secondary illnesses that occur with an anxiety disorder, including substance abuse and depression.  While there are specific treatments designed for these serious mental health conditions, the treatments are often similar and don’t really differ much when compared side by side.

Norton said, “What I realized is that I could open a treatment group for 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 has found the most success with CBT, which helps patients understand how their thoughts and feelings influence personal behavior, along with the transdiagnostic treatment, which helps to treat the secondary condition.  He said, “What I have learned from my past 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.

Norton’s research on this method of treatment found that over two-thirds of comorbid or secondary diagnosis went away, versus those who were being treated for anxiety while also receiving specific treatment for a secondary condition.  He added, “The transdiagnostic treatment approach is more efficient in treating the whole person rather than just treating the diagnosis, then treating the next diagnoses.”

Peter Norton is the author of the book, “Group Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy of Anxiety. A Transdiagnostic Treatment Manual and co-author of “The Anti-Anxiety Workbook: Proven Strategies to Overcome Worry, Phobias, Panic and Obsessions.”