Experts combat anxiety
Recent research from the Anxiety Disorder Clinic shows cognitive-behavioral therapy, a developing form of treatment for anxiety disorders, could be more effective than the most established treatments.
“The research consistently shows that it is by far the most effective form of treatment for anxiety disorders – phobias, fears, obsessive compulsive disorder and so forth,” Peter Norton, associate professor in clinical psychology, said.
“It’s as effective, if not a little more effective, than the medications that we think of like Prozac.”
Norton is the director of a clinic, located in the Psychology Research and Services Center, which has served almost 500 patients since opening in 2004.
His team has been experimenting with cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on the two main components that drive anxiety disorders.
“The cognitive part really focuses on helping essentially retrain the person’s way of thinking about the things that provoke their anxiety to help them evaluate things more realistically,” Norton said.
“The behavioral part focuses much more on helping a person basically face their fears.”
Their approach varies from previous treatments in that it is transdiagnostic – it attempts to treat multiple diagnoses at once rather than focusing on the primary diagnosis only.
“We are changing the way they interact with things that are provoking their anxiety,” Norton said.
According to Norton, this approach is more effective because many cases deal with comorbidity — when a person meets the criteria for multiple diagnoses.
Hypothetically, a person with a panic disorder often suffers from social phobia as well.
“All of these specific treatments are good at treating the specific thing that brought you in, but all of your comorbid diagnoses will still be around when you leave,” Norton said.
“What we find with this transdiagnostic approach is all of your other diagnoses tend to go away as well because we are not treating a specific diagnosis; we are treating your anxiety.”
About 16 percent of the population could be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, Norton said.
What defines these disorders is that the amount of danger the patient associates with whatever triggers their anxiety is highly disproportionate to the actual risk.
Many college students could potentially suffer from a minor or major anxiety disorder. Associate director for Counseling and Psychological Services Chris Scott said that 50 percent of the service’s patients are treated for this issue.
“Anxiety-related concerns are some of the most common and treatable problems,” Scott said.
“It is important to note that oftentimes people experience several mental health concerns at the same time. It is very common for those who suffer from an anxiety disorder to also experience problems such as depression or substance abuse.”
Both the Anxiety Disorder Clinic and CAPS have reported a high turnaround in patient success with their disorders.
Norton published his research on cognitive-behavioral therapy in his new book “Group Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy of Anxiety: A Transdiagnostic Treatment Manual,” which came out in May.
“If you are suffering, there are resources here on campus, whether it’s CAPS or us, that are available,” Norton said. “Anxiety is real and it’s very treatable.”
Further information can be found at www.uh.edu/anxiety/index2.htm for the Anxiety Disorder Clinic.
To contact a counselor at CAPS, visit www.caps.uh.edu.