New Therapy May Improve Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

Worry and stress are an important part of most people’s everyday lives. These emotional states often alert a person that a task or situation has serious potential implications for their well-being. Worry and stress come and go, but when they are persistent and limit normal functioning, they may indicate a form of an anxiety disorder.

The symptoms of anxiety disorders vary by the specific diagnosis and by the individual experiencing them, but they can often be recognized by their chronic nature. Sweaty hands and a racing mind may be an occasional experience signifying intense stress for most people, but they may occur in someone with an anxiety disorder on an ongoing basis.

A recent study provides information about new potential treatment options for those with anxiety disorders. The study examined the effectiveness of attention-retraining therapy among teenagers who were diagnosed with various forms of anxiety disorder in a randomized, controlled trial. It is the first study of its kind to examine the treatment among teenagers.

Previously, research examining attention-retraining therapy has focused on its usefulness in treating adults. The new study involved 42 teens who were diagnosed with severe anxiety. They were residents of an inpatient treatment program that provided 25 hours of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) each week.

The average age of the patients was between 15 and 16 years and each patient was treated for approximately 60 to 62 days.

The analysis showed that there was marked improvement among the patients who received CBT in addition to a computerized placebo. However, symptom scores were more dramatically improved for those who received CBT with computerized attention-retraining therapy.

The majority of the patients in both groups were diagnosed with a primary case of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), including 17 patients in the control group and 13 patients receiving combination therapy. The group had high levels of comorbidity and symptoms were severe enough to seriously limit everyday activities.

Primary diagnoses for the group included not only OCD, but also generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder and others. In addition, the patients had a range of other mental health diagnoses, including depression, eating disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. These factors resulted in a complex group for treatment.

The computer training used a screen that showed a neutral face and a face that expressed disgust. Each face was then followed by a screen with a probe where one of the faces had been, with a code to indicate a left click or a right click of the mouse.

While the control group had no set pattern, the attention-retraining group saw a probe every time the neutral face appeared.

The study was based on information gathered in previous research that showed a tendency among those with anxiety disorder to focus attention where they believe there is a potential threat.

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