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The Best Treatment For Anxiety Disorders

Marilyn Folk BScN medical reviewer
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Updated: May 11, 2019

The Best Treatment For Anxiety Disorders

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in conjunction with 'transdiagnostic' approach, which anxietycentre.com uses, is the most effective treatment for anxiety disorders, research finds.

New research finds cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in conjunction with a “transdiagnostic” approach—a model that applies one set of principles across all anxiety disorders—to be the most effective treatment for anxiety disorders.[1]

This combination was more effective than CBT combined with other types of anxiety disorder treatments according to Peter Norton, associate professor in clinical psychology and director of the Anxiety Disorder Clinic at the University of Houston (UH).

Norton 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 a decade of research, 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.

"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," said Norton. "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."

Norton finds cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of treatment with a specific time frame and goals, helps patients understand the thoughts and feelings that influence behaviors to be the most effective treatment. Other research has found this to be true, as well.[2][3]

"In my research study, over two-thirds of comorbid diagnoses went away, versus what we typically 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."

Norton notes the larger contributions of the studies are to guide further development and interventions for how clinical psychologists, therapists and social workers treat people with anxiety disorders. The data collected will be useful for people out on the front lines to effectively and efficiently treat people to reduce anxiety disorders.

NOTE: This is the approach anxietycentre.com was founded on. We’re happy that research has now endorsed what our professional experiences have found.

1. University of Houston. "Cognitive-behavioral therapy effective in combatting anxiety disorders, study suggests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 June 2012. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120628193024.htm

2. Rector, Neil A, et al. “The Expanding Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy Treatment Umbrella for the Anxiety Disorders: Disorder-Specific and Transdiagnostic Approaches.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4079149/.

3. Carroll, Melissa. “Research at UH Finds Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Effective in Combatting Anxiety Disorders.” No. 347: Schrodinger's Cat, 7 Aug. 2017, www.uh.edu/news-events/stories/2012/june/PeterNorton.php.

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The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.

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