Benefits Of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
June 29, 2012

Benefits Of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Fear of flying. Scared of spiders. Panicked with public speaking. These are a few anxiety disorders that many people may suffer through. Researchers recently found that patients who are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or suffer from such a disorder can show much improvement when they undergo cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that is paired with a “transdiagnostic” approach.

Researchers believe that this combination of CBT and a “transdiagnostic” approach is more effective than CBT paired with other anxiety disorder treatments like relaxation training. The research was conducted by Peter Norton, an associate professor in clinical psychology and director of the Anxiety Disorder Clinic at the University of Houston (UH). Norton believes that therapists who treat people with anxiety disorders can possibly utilize a treatment that includes one set of principals from all forms of anxiety disorders. The findings are based off of research done over a decade; the research includes four separate clinical trials.

"The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has been an important breakthrough in understanding mental health, but people are dissatisfied with its fine level of differentiation," remarked Norton, who has authored books and papers on anxiety disorders, in a prepared statement. "Panic disorders are considered something different from social phobia, which is considered something different from PTSD. The hope was that by getting refined in the diagnosis we could target interventions for each of these diagnoses, but in reality that just hasn't played out."

In his recent work at the UH, Norton has found that anxiety and fear can become anxiety disorders when they make a person feel so overwhelmed; as a result, it can negatively influence a person´s daily life. He believes that anxiety disorders include issues like panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder, and other specific phobias. These anxiety disorders are often found with a secondary illness like depression, alcohol abuse, or substance abuse.

Furthermore, Norton believes that there are specific treatments for each diagnosis. Different therapies with have small differences among them. He first started studying the topic of social phobia and transdiagnostic treatment approach as a graduate student in Nebraska.

"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," explained Norton in the statement.

Through his research, Norton found that cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) could help his patients identify how thoughts and feelings could impact behavior. CBT is a treatment that includes a specific time frame and goals. When he used CBT with a transdiagnostic approach, patients showed significant improvement. It was especially effective in treating comorbid diagnoses, an illness or condition that exists simultaneously with another disease but can still stand on its own.

"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," noted Norton in the statement. "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."

In regards to future research, Norton believes that the studies he has done will help develop interventions for clinical psychologists, therapists, and social workers who work with patients who demonstrate anxiety disorders.