Individuals who struggle with anxiety often exhibit symptoms of anxiety sensitivity (AS). AS is a persistent fear of the negative symptoms of anxiety and can exacerbate the current state of their anxiety and lead to panic attacks and debilitation. Even individuals with mood problems experience worsening symptoms as a result of AS, and it has been shown to increase symptoms of posttraumatic stress as well. Mental health professionals realize that addressing AS is critical to achieving a positive outcome during treatment and have relied on existing anxiety sensitivity ameliorating training (ASAT) to combat the symptoms. ASAT uses interoceptive exposure (IE) as a component of the treatment. IE exposes anxious clients to conditions that will induce fear in an attempt to reduce their sensitivity to the feared conditions. Although some research has shown IE to be a positive tool in anxiety sensitivity reduction, no study has evaluated the effectiveness of ASAT and IE between sessions.
Meghan E. Keough of the Department of Psychology at Florida State University sought to examine this component of ASAT by assessing the anxiety sensitivity of 104 individuals with AS. After a 1-hour session of ASAT and homework sessions, the participants exhibited significant reductions in AS. Compared to controls, the participants who completed the ASAT and homework had much lower levels of AS at both 1-month and 6-month follow-ups. Additionally, the control group experienced elevated levels of AS at both follow-ups.
Keough and her colleagues believe that the results of this study clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of ASAT and IE on AS. Strikingly, just as the training aided in the reduction of symptoms long-term, the lack of ASAT and homework perpetuated the increase of AS long-term, demonstrating the negative consequences of not adequately addressing AS in people who suffer with anxiety. These findings also provide evidence that individuals who may continue to suffer with AS even though they adhere to in-office treatment for years at a time may benefit by adding this additional form of treatment to their existing protocol. ASAT and homework also may provide a viable alternative to traditional mental health care for people who have financial or geographical challenges. Keough added, “Although this type of intervention does not fully address these problems, such interventions have the potential to fill a need in a stepped care process that may more fully address the current inadequacies in the mental health system.”
Keough, M. E., Schmidt, N. B. (2012). Refinement of a brief anxiety sensitivity reduction intervention. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027961
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