Anxiety conditions range from mild to severe. They include generalized anxiety (GAD), phobia, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive behavior (OCD), and posttraumatic stress (PTSD). One of the most widely accepted methods of treatment for anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). However, many individuals who have anxiety do not respond well to this form of treatment. Some people are unable to make the cognitive changes necessary to achieve a positive outcome, while others cannot commit to the therapy and therefore never realize the benefits of treatment. Experts have explored other avenues of treatment for these individuals and have found that acceptance commitment therapy (ACT) is an effective alternative.
ACT is a mindfulness-based approach that encourages clients to accept their anxious feelings nonjudgmentally and to focus on the present moment and their physiological reactions while experiencing anxiety. ACT does not promote change in the beliefs about the anxious feeling, merely acceptance. CBT, on the other hand, teaches clients how to change the thoughts they associate with anxious feelings in order to elicit a different and more adaptive response. Some research has compared these two approaches, but no study has looked at specific measures of improvement in a clinical sample of anxious individuals. To address this gap, Joanna J. Arch of the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Colorado recently examined several dimensions of outcome in participants being treated with CBT versus participants being treated with ACT.
For her study, Arch assessed 128 individuals after they completed an exposure therapy combined with either ACT or CBT. She evaluated their levels of clinical severity, quality of life, mood problems, and overall symptom severity at treatment conclusion and again 6 and 12 months posttreatment. Arch discovered that both ACT and CBT resulted in significant symptom reduction but in different ways. CBT provided a higher quality of life rating than ACT, whereas ACT resulted in lower clinical severity ratings at conclusion and follow-up. Arch concluded, “Overall, our findings suggest that ACT is a highly viable treatment alternative to CBT, the current gold-standard psychosocial treatment for anxiety disorders.”
Arch, J. J., Eifert, G. H., Davies, C., Vilardaga, J. C. P., Rose, R. D., Craske, M. G. (2012). Randomized clinical trial of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) versus acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for mixed anxiety disorders. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028310
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