Tinnitus is a disabling condition that causes an individual to perceive sounds that are not present. Over 10% of the population suffers with this condition, with nearly 2% of the entire population struggling with tinnitus in the extremely distressing ranges. People in this category have symptoms similar to those who struggle with chronic pain or diabetes. When tinnitus gets severe enough it can lead to loss of concentration, cognitive impairment, emotional distress, and even insomnia. Nearly half of those who have tinnitus also have a clinical diagnosis of mood or anxiety problems.
To date, there is no cure for tinnitus. Because no physical remedy has been found, available treatments include use of a mask or hearing aid or pharmacological protocol. However, some psychological treatments, aimed at reducing the severity of tinnitus, have shown some success in similar cases. In particular, acceptance and commitment therapies (ACT) and cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) have proven effective at reducing symptoms severity for other physical illnesses. To determine if ACT would be beneficial for people suffering with tinnitus, Hugo Hesser of the Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning at the Swedish Institute for Disability Research at Linköping University in Sweden led a study comparing the effects of ACT versus CBT.
For his study, Hesser enlisted 99 clients with tinnitus and randomly assigned them to a treatment with ACT, CBT, or a control therapy for 8 weeks. Hesser evaluated the participants prior to the treatment, at the conclusion of the treatment, and again 1 year later. The ACT was delivered via the internet, in a therapist-guided format. The results showed that the participants in the ACT condition responded as well as those in the CBT condition. Specifically, those who participated in the online ACT experienced not only physical symptom reduction, but also significant decreases in anxiety. The results of the study are promising, considering the lack of clinicians trained to specifically treat tinnitus. Hesser added, “Results lent initial support to ACT as a self-help treatment in the management of tinnitus, a condition associated with disabling consequences for millions worldwide.”
Hesser, H., Gustafsson, T., Lundén, C., Henrikson, O., Fattahi, K., Johnsson, E., Westin, V. Z., Carlbring, P., Mäki-Torkko, E., Kaldo, V., Andersson, G. (2012, January 16). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Internet-Delivered Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in the Treatment of Tinnitus. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027021
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