What is Improving Access to Psychological Therapies?

Introduction

Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) is a National Health Service (England) initiative to provide more psychotherapy to the general population.

It was developed and introduced by the Labour Party as a result of economic evaluations by Professor Lord Richard Layard, based on new therapy guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence as promoted by clinical psychologist David M. Clark.

Brief History

Richard Layard, a labour economist at the London School of Economics, had become influential in New Labour party politics and was appointed to the House of Lords in 2000. He had a particular interest in the happiness of populations and mental health; his father, John Layard, was an anthropologist who had survived suicidal depression and retrained as a Jungian psychologist after undergoing psychoanalysis by Carl Jung. In 2003 Richard Layard met the clinical psychologist David M. Clark, a leading figure in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy who was running the Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma (with Anke Ehlers and Paul Salkovskis) at the Institute of Psychiatry and Maudsley Hospital. Clark professed to high rates of improvement from CBT but low availability of the therapy despite NICE guidelines now recommending it for several mental disorders.

Layard, with Clark’s help, set about campaigning for a new national service for NICE-recommended treatments, particularly CBT. One key argument was that it would be cost-effective and indeed eventually pay for itself by increasing productivity and reducing state benefits such as Disability Living Allowance and Incapacity Benefit (which had seen rising claims since their introduction by John Major’s Conservative Party in 1992 and 1995 respectively). The plan was accepted in principle by the newly re-elected Labour government in 2005 and gradually put into practice directed by Clark. Layard names several others as having helped gain the initial political traction for the initiative – MP Ed Miliband, psychiatrist Louis Appleby (then National Director for Mental Health), David Halpern (psychologist), psychiatrist David Nutt, MP Alan Milburn (married to a psychiatrist) and eventually the Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

In 2006 the Mental Health Policy Group at the LSE published ‘The Depression Report’, commonly referred to as the Layard Report, advocating for the expansion of psychotherapy on the NHS. This facilitated the development of IAPT initiatives, including two demonstration sites (pilot studies) and then training schemes for new types of psychological practitioner. The programme was officially announced in 2007 on World Mental Health Day. Some mental health professionals cast doubt on the claims early on. In the official publication of the British Psychological Society in 2009, experienced clinical psychologists John Marzillier and Professor John Hall strongly criticised IAPT’s promoters for glossing over both the data gaps acknowledged in the NICE reports and the complexity of the multiple issues typically affecting people with mental health problems and their ability to sustain employment; they were met with much agreement as well as angry criticism. One researcher cited the UK initiative as the most impressive plan to disseminate stepped-care cognitive behaviour therapy. But the plan appears not to have worked, Davis (2020) in the Journal of Evidence Based Mental Health, noted that 73% of IAPT clients receive low intensity therapy first (guided self help, computer assisted CBT or group psychoeducation) but only 4 % are transferred to high intensity therapy and the first transition appointment is the least well attended.

Aims

The aim of the project is to increase the provision of evidence-based treatments for common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression by primary care organisations. This includes workforce planning to adequately train the mental health professionals required. This would be based on a ‘stepped care’ or triage model where ‘low intensity’ interventions or self-help would be provided to most people in the first instance and ‘high intensity’ interventions for more serious or complex conditions. Outcomes would be assessed by standardised questionnaires, where sufficiently high initial scores (a ‘case’) and sufficiently low scores immediately after treatment (below ‘caseness’), would be classed as ‘moving to recovery’. The NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) therapy guidelines presume reliable diagnosis. IAPT therapists do not make formal diagnoses. This calls into question IAPT’s claimed fidelity to the NICE guidelines, particularly as it does not monitor therapists treatment adherence.

Evaluation

Initial demonstration sites reported outcomes in line with predictions in terms of the number of people treated (especially with ‘low intensity’ interventions such as ‘guided self-help’) and the percentages classified as recovered and as in more employment (a small minority) to ten months later. It was noted that the literature indicates a substantial proportion of patients would recover anyway with the passage of time or with a placebo – in fact the majority of those whose condition had lasted for less than six months, but only a small minority of those whose condition had been longer-lasting.

There has been some debate over whether IAPT’s roll-out may result initially in low quality therapy being offered by poorly trained practitioners.

Beacon UK benchmarked IAPT performance across England for 2011-2012 and reported that 533,550 people accessed (were referred to) IAPT services – 8.7% of people suffering from anxiety and depression disorders – with around 60% entering treatment sessions. Most local IAPT services did not reach the target of a 50% ‘recovery’ rate.

In 2012-2013, 761,848 people were referred to IAPT services. 49% went into treatment (the rest either assessed as unsuitable for IAPT or declined), although around half of those dropped out before completing at least two sessions. Of the remainder, 127,060 people had pre-treatment and post-treatment mental health questionnaires submitted indicating ‘recovery’ – a headline rate of 43%. A report by the University of Chester indicated that sessions were costing three times more to fund than the original Department of Health estimates.

For 2014-2015 there were nearly 1.3 million referrals to IAPT, of which 815,665 entered treatment. Of those, 37% completed sufficient sessions, with 180,300 showing a ‘reliable recovery’ (on anxiety and depression questionnaires completed before and immediately after treatment) – which was just over one in five of those who entered treatment, just under half of those who completed enough sessions. Opinion on IAPT remained divided. The number of trained IAPT therapists did not appear to have met the government’s target of 6000, resulting in high caseloads. Some complained of seeing more ‘revolving door’ patients and excess complexity of cases, while the NHS has acknowledged problems with waiting times and recovery rates. However Norman Lamb, who championed IAPT within the coalition government 2010-2015, disagreed with picking faults with such an extensive and world-leading advance in evidence-based treatment. Others lauded the success in rising numbers of referrals, but warned of the failure to improve recovery rates. It was noted that both antidepressant prescribing and psychiatric disability claims have continued to rise.

In 2017 fewer than half of the Clinical Commissioning Groups met the target (15.8%) for the number of people who should be accessing talking therapies. There has been no publicly funded independent audit of IAPT . A study of 90 IAPT cases assessed with a ‘gold standard’ diagnostic interview revealed that only the tip of the iceberg recovered, in the sense of losing their diagnostic status. The results were identical whether or not the person was treated before or after personal injury litigation.

In July 2021 55,703 appointments out of the total 434,000 which went ahead involved one or more practitioners who did not have an accredited IAPT qualification. There are about 2000 psychological wellbeing practitioners in the service, with another 1,200 trainees. They are supported by high intensity therapists and counsellors of which there are about 4,000 with 700 trainees.

Updates

In December 2010, Paul Burstow, Minister for Care Services, announced an extension to the IAPT project to include Children and Young Peoples services. The government pledged £118m annually from 2015 to 2019 to increase access to psychological therapies services to children and young people.

When the programme officially started in 2008 it was only for working age adults, but in 2010 it was opened to all ages.

In 2015 Clark and fellow clinical psychologist Peter Fonagy, writing in response to wide-ranging criticism from child and adolescent psychiatrist Sami Timimi, stated that IAPT now has increasing support for the non-CBT modalities recommended by NICE for depression: counselling, couples therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy and brief psychodynamic therapy; and for Children and Young People (CYP-IAPT) more systemic family therapy, interpersonal therapy and parenting therapy is on the way. Timimi described the changes as still “light” on relational/collaborative therapy compared to the ‘technical model’ derived from ’eminence-based’ NICE guidelines via inadequate diagnostic categories.

A Payment by Results system is being developed for IAPT, whereby each local Clinical Commissioning Group can reward each local provider according to various targets met for the service and for each client – particularly for how much change in scores on the self-report questionnaires. The March 2021 issue of the British Journal of Clinical Psychology has highlighted the considerable controversy over IAPT’s claims of success, Scott( 2021) and Kellett et al., (2021) have responded with their own commentary ‘The costs and benefits of practice-based evidence: Correcting some misunderstandings about the 10-year meta-analysis of IAPT studies’.

What is Agoraphobia?

Introduction

Agoraphobia is a mental and behavioural disorder, specifically an anxiety disorder characterised by symptoms of anxiety in situations where the person perceives their environment to be unsafe with no easy way to escape.

These situations can include open spaces, public transit, shopping centres, or simply being outside their home. Being in these situations may result in a panic attack. Those affected will go to great lengths to avoid these situations. In severe cases people may become completely unable to leave their homes.

Agoraphobia is believed to be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The condition often runs in families, and stressful or traumatic events such as the death of a parent or being attacked may be a trigger. In the DSM-5 agoraphobia is classified as a phobia along with specific phobias and social phobia. Other conditions that can produce similar symptoms include separation anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and major depressive disorder. The diagnosis of agoraphobia has been shown to be comorbid with depression, substance abuse, and suicide ideation.

Without treatment it is uncommon for agoraphobia to resolve. Treatment is typically with a type of counselling called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT results in resolution for about half of people. In some instances those with a diagnosis of agoraphobia have reported taking benzodiazepines and antipsychotics augmentation. Agoraphobia affects about 1.7% of adults. Women are affected about twice as often as men. The condition often begins in early adulthood and becomes less common in old age. It is rare in children.

Refer to Hikikomori.

Etymology

The term “agoraphobia” was coined in German in 1871 by pioneering German psychologist Carl Friedrich Otto Westphal, 1833-1890, in his article “Die Agoraphobie, eine neuropathische Erscheinung.” Archiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten, Berlin, 1871-1872; 3: 138-161. It is derived from Greek ἀγορά, agorā́, meaning a “place of assembly” or “market-place” and -φοβία, -phobía, meaning “fear”.

Signs and Symptoms

Agoraphobia is a condition where sufferers become anxious in unfamiliar environments or where they perceive that they have little control. Triggers for this anxiety may include wide-open spaces, crowds (social anxiety), or travelling (even short distances). Agoraphobia is often, but not always, compounded by a fear of social embarrassment, as the agoraphobic fears the onset of a panic attack and appearing distraught in public. Most of the time they avoid these areas and stay in the comfort of their haven, usually their home.

Agoraphobia is also defined as “a fear, sometimes terrifying, by those who have experienced one or more panic attacks”. In these cases, the sufferer is fearful of a particular place because they have experienced a panic attack at the same location at a previous time. Fearing the onset of another panic attack, the sufferer is fearful or even avoids a location. Some refuse to leave their homes even in medical emergencies because the fear of being outside of their comfort areas is too great.

The sufferers can sometimes go to great lengths to avoid the locations where they have experienced the onset of a panic attack. Agoraphobia, as described in this manner, is actually a symptom professionals check when making a diagnosis of panic disorder. Other syndromes like obsessive compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder can also cause agoraphobia. Essentially, any irrational fear that keeps one from going outside can cause the syndrome.

Agoraphobics may suffer from temporary separation anxiety disorder when certain other individuals of the household depart from the residence temporarily, such as a parent or spouse, or when the agoraphobic is left home alone. Such temporary conditions can result in an increase in anxiety or a panic attack or feeling the need to separate themselves from family or maybe friends.

People with agoraphobia sometimes fear waiting outside for long periods of time; that symptom can be called “macrophobia”.

Panic Attacks

Agoraphobia patients can experience sudden panic attacks when traveling to places where they fear they are out of control, help would be difficult to obtain, or they could be embarrassed. During a panic attack, epinephrine is released in large amounts, triggering the body’s natural fight-or-flight response. A panic attack typically has an abrupt onset, building to maximum intensity within 10 to 15 minutes, and rarely lasts longer than 30 minutes. Symptoms of a panic attack include palpitations, rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, tightness in the throat, and shortness of breath. Many patients report a fear of dying, fear of losing control of emotions, or fear of losing control of behaviours.

Causes

Agoraphobia is believed to be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The condition often runs in families, and stressful or traumatic events such as the death of a parent or being attacked may be a trigger.

Research has uncovered a link between agoraphobia and difficulties with spatial orientation. Individuals without agoraphobia are able to maintain balance by combining information from their vestibular system, their visual system, and their proprioceptive sense. A disproportionate number of agoraphobics have weak vestibular function and consequently rely more on visual or tactile signals. They may become disoriented when visual cues are sparse (as in wide-open spaces) or overwhelming (as in crowds). Likewise, they may be confused by sloping or irregular surfaces.[20] In a virtual reality study, agoraphobics showed impaired processing of changing audiovisual data in comparison with subjects without agoraphobia.

Substance-Induced

Chronic use of tranquilisers and sleeping pills such as benzodiazepines has been linked to onset of agoraphobia. In 10 patients who had developed agoraphobia during benzodiazepine dependence, symptoms abated within the first year of assisted withdrawal. Similarly, alcohol use disorders are associated with panic with or without agoraphobia; this association may be due to the long-term effects of alcohol consumption causing a distortion in brain chemistry. Tobacco smoking has also been associated with the development and emergence of agoraphobia, often with panic disorder; it is uncertain how tobacco smoking results in anxiety-panic with or without agoraphobia symptoms, but the direct effects of nicotine dependence or the effects of tobacco smoke on breathing have been suggested as possible causes. Self-medication or a combination of factors may also explain the association between tobacco smoking and agoraphobia and panic.

Attachment Theory

Some scholars have explained agoraphobia as an attachment deficit, i.e. the temporary loss of the ability to tolerate spatial separations from a secure base. Recent empirical research has also linked attachment and spatial theories of agoraphobia.

Spatial Theory

In the social sciences, a perceived clinical bias exists in agoraphobia research. Branches of the social sciences, especially geography, have increasingly become interested in what may be thought of as a spatial phenomenon. One such approach links the development of agoraphobia with modernity. Factors considered contributing to agoraphobia within modernity are the ubiquity of cars and urbanisation. These have helped develop the expansion of public space and the contraction of private space, thus creating in the minds of agoraphobia-prone people a tense, unbridgeable gulf (a colloquialism) between the two.

Evolutionary Psychology

An evolutionary psychology view is that the more unusual primary agoraphobia without panic attacks may be due to a different mechanism from agoraphobia with panic attacks. Primary agoraphobia without panic attacks may be a specific phobia explained by it once having been evolutionarily advantageous to avoid exposed, large, open spaces without cover or concealment. Agoraphobia with panic attacks may be an avoidance response secondary to the panic attacks, due to fear of the situations in which the panic attacks occurred.

Diagnosis

Most people who present to mental health specialists develop agoraphobia after the onset of panic disorder. Agoraphobia is best understood as an adverse behavioural outcome of repeated panic attacks and subsequent anxiety and preoccupation with these attacks that leads to an avoidance of situations where a panic attack could occur. Early treatment of panic disorder can often prevent agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is typically determined when symptoms are worse than panic disorder, but also do not meet the criteria for other anxiety disorders such as depression. In rare cases where agoraphobics do not meet the criteria used to diagnose panic disorder, the formal diagnosis of agoraphobia without history of panic disorder is used (primary agoraphobia).

Treatments

Therapy

Systematic desensitisation can provide lasting relief to the majority of patients with panic disorder and agoraphobia. The disappearance of residual and sub-clinical agoraphobic avoidance, and not simply of panic attacks, should be the aim of exposure therapy. Many patients can deal with exposure easier if they are in the company of a friend on whom they can rely. Patients must remain in the situation until anxiety has abated because if they leave the situation, the phobic response will not decrease and it may even rise.

A related exposure treatment is in vivo exposure, a cognitive behavioural therapy method, that gradually exposes patients to the feared situations or objects. This treatment was largely effective with an effect size from d = 0.78 to d = 1.34, and these effects were shown to increase over time, proving that the treatment had long-term efficacy (up to 12 months after treatment).

Psychological interventions in combination with pharmaceutical treatments were overall more effective than treatments simply involving either CBT or pharmaceuticals. Further research showed there was no significant effect between using group CBT versus individual CBT.

Cognitive restructuring has also proved useful in treating agoraphobia. This treatment involves coaching a participant through a dianoetic discussion, with the intent of replacing irrational, counterproductive beliefs with more factual and beneficial ones.

Relaxation techniques are often useful skills for the agoraphobic to develop, as they can be used to stop or prevent symptoms of anxiety and panic.

Videoconferencing Psychotherapy (VCP)

Videoconferencing psychotherapy (VCP) is an emerging modality used to treat various disorders in a remote method. Similar to traditional face-to-face interventions, VCP can be used to administer CBT. The use of VCP has been shown to be equally effective as face-to-face interventions at treating panic disorder and agoraphobia (PDA) and motivating the client to continue treatment.

Medications

Antidepressant medications most commonly used to treat anxiety disorders are mainly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Benzodiazepines, monoamine oxidase inhibitor, and tricyclic antidepressants are also sometimes prescribed for treatment of agoraphobia. Antidepressants are important because some have anxiolytic effects. Antidepressants should be used in conjunction with exposure as a form of self-help or with CBT. A combination of medication and CBT is sometimes the most effective treatment for agoraphobia.

Benzodiazepines and other anxiolytic medications such as alprazolam and clonazepam are used to treat anxiety and can also help control the symptoms of a panic attack.

Alternative Medicine

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) has been studied as a possible treatment for agoraphobia, with poor results. As such, EMDR is only recommended in cases where cognitive-behavioural approaches have proven ineffective or in cases where agoraphobia has developed following trauma.

Many people with anxiety disorders benefit from joining a self-help or support group (telephone conference-call support groups or online support groups being of particular help for completely housebound individuals). Sharing problems and achievements with others, as well as sharing various self-help tools, are common activities in these groups. In particular, stress management techniques and various kinds of meditation practices and visualisation techniques can help people with anxiety disorders calm themselves and may enhance the effects of therapy, as can service to others, which can distract from the self-absorption that tends to go with anxiety problems. Also, preliminary evidence suggests aerobic exercise may have a calming effect. Since caffeine, certain illicit drugs, and even some over-the-counter cold medications can aggravate the symptoms of anxiety disorders, they should be avoided.

Epidemiology

Agoraphobia occurs about twice as commonly among women as it does in men.

Panic disorder with or without agoraphobia affects roughly 5.1% of Americans, and about one-third (1/3) of this population with panic disorder have co-morbid agoraphobia. It is uncommon to have agoraphobia without panic attacks, with only 0.17% of people with agoraphobia not presenting panic disorders as well.

Society and Culture

Notable Cases

  • Woody Allen (b. 1935), American actor, director, musician.
  • Kim Basinger (b. 1953), American actress.
  • Earl Campbell (b. 1955), American pro football player.
  • Macaulay Culkin (b. 1980), American actor, known for his portrayal of Kevin McCallister in Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, said he had “self-diagnosed” agoraphobia.
  • Paula Deen (b. 1947), American chef, author, and television personality.
  • H.L. Gold (1914-1996), science fiction editor: As a result of trauma during his wartime experiences, his agoraphobia became so severe that for more than two decades he was unable to leave his apartment. Towards the end of his life, he acquired some control over the condition.
  • Daryl Hannah (b. 1960), American actress.
  • Howard Hughes (1905-1976), American aviator, industrialist, film producer and philanthropist.
  • Olivia Hussey (b. 1951), Anglo-Argentine actress.
  • Shirley Jackson (1916-1965), American writer: Her agoraphobia is considered to be a primary inspiration for the novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
  • Elfriede Jelinek (b. 1946), Austrian writer, Nobel Prize laureate in Literature in 2004.
  • Bolesław Prus (1847-1912), Polish journalist and novelist.
  • Peter Robinson (b. 1962), British musician known as Marilyn.
  • Brian Wilson (b. 1942), American singer and songwriter, primary songwriter of the Beach Boys, a former recluse and agoraphobic who has schizophrenia.
  • Ben Weasel, singer and songwriter.

What is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy?

Introduction

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapy that began with efforts to treat personality disorders, ADHD, and interpersonal conflicts.

There is evidence that DBT can be useful in treating mood disorders, suicidal ideation, and for change in behavioural patterns such as self-harm and substance use. DBT evolved into a process in which the therapist and client work with acceptance and change-oriented strategies, and ultimately balance and synthesize them, in a manner comparable to the philosophical dialectical process of hypothesis and antithesis, followed by synthesis.

This approach was developed by Marsha M. Linehan, a psychology researcher at the University of Washington, to help people increase their emotional and cognitive regulation by learning about the triggers that lead to reactive states and helping to assess which coping skills to apply in the sequence of events, thoughts, feelings, and behaviours to help avoid undesired reactions.

Linehan developed DBT as a modified form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in the late 1980s to treat people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and chronically suicidal individuals. Research on its effectiveness in treating other conditions has been fruitful; DBT has been used by practitioners to treat people with depression, drug and alcohol problems, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries (TBI), binge-eating disorder, and mood disorders. Research indicates DBT might help patients with symptoms and behaviours associated with spectrum mood disorders, including self-injury. Work also suggests its effectiveness with sexual-abuse survivors and chemical dependency.

DBT combines standard cognitive-behavioural techniques for emotion regulation and reality-testing with concepts of distress tolerance, acceptance, and mindful awareness largely derived from contemplative meditative practice. DBT is based upon the biosocial theory of mental illness and is the first therapy that has been experimentally demonstrated to be generally effective in treating BPD. The first randomised clinical trial of DBT showed reduced rates of suicidal gestures, psychiatric hospitalisations, and treatment drop-outs when compared to treatment as usual. A meta-analysis found that DBT reached moderate effects in individuals with borderline personality disorder.

Overview

DBT is considered part of the “third wave” of cognitive-behavioural therapy, and DBT adapts CBT to assist patients to deal with stress.

This approach was developed by Marsha M. Linehan, a psychology researcher at the University of Washington, to help people increase their emotional and cognitive regulation by learning about the triggers that lead to reactive states and helping to assess which coping skills to apply in the sequence of events, thoughts, feelings, and behaviours to help avoid undesired reactions.

Linehan developed DBT as a modified form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in the late 1980s to treat people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and chronically suicidal individuals. Research on its effectiveness in treating other conditions has been fruitful; DBT has been used by practitioners to treat people with depression, drug and alcohol problems, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries (TBI), binge-eating disorder, and mood disorders. Research indicates DBT might help patients with symptoms and behaviours associated with spectrum mood disorders, including self-injury. Recent work also suggests its effectiveness with sexual-abuse survivors and chemical dependency.

DBT strives to have the patient view the therapist as an ally rather than an adversary in the treatment of psychological issues. Accordingly, the therapist aims to accept and validate the client’s feelings at any given time, while, nonetheless, informing the client that some feelings and behaviours are maladaptive, and showing them better alternatives. DBT focuses on the client acquiring new skills and changing their behaviours, with the ultimate goal of achieving a “life worth living”, as defined by the patient.

In DBT’s biosocial theory of BPD, clients have a biological predisposition for emotional dysregulation, and their social environment validates maladaptive behaviour.

DBT skills training alone is being used to address treatment goals in some clinical settings, and the broader goal of emotion regulation that is seen in DBT has allowed it to be used in new settings, for example, supporting parenting.

Four Modules

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is one of the core ideas behind all elements of DBT. It is considered a foundation for the other skills taught in DBT, because it helps individuals accept and tolerate the powerful emotions they may feel when challenging their habits or exposing themselves to upsetting situations.

The concept of mindfulness and the meditative exercises used to teach it are derived from traditional contemplative religious practice, though the version taught in DBT does not involve any religious or metaphysical concepts. Within DBT it is the capacity to pay attention, nonjudgmentally, to the present moment; about living in the moment, experiencing one’s emotions and senses fully, yet with perspective. The practice of mindfulness can also be intended to make people more aware of their environments through their five senses: touch, smell, sight, taste, and sound. Mindfulness relies heavily on the principle of acceptance, sometimes referred to as “radical acceptance”. Acceptance skills rely on the patient’s ability to view situations with no judgment, and to accept situations and their accompanying emotions. This causes less distress overall, which can result in reduced discomfort and symptomology.

Acceptance and Change

The first few sessions of DBT introduce the dialectic of acceptance and change. The patient must first become comfortable with the idea of therapy; once the patient and therapist have established a trusting relationship, DBT techniques can flourish. An essential part of learning acceptance is to first grasp the idea of radical acceptance: radical acceptance embraces the idea that one should face situations, both positive and negative, without judgment. Acceptance also incorporates mindfulness and emotional regulation skills, which depend on the idea of radical acceptance. These skills, specifically, are what set DBT apart from other therapies.

Often, after a patient becomes familiar with the idea of acceptance, they will accompany it with change. DBT has five specific states of change which the therapist will review with the patient:

  • Precontemplation is the first stage, in which the patient is completely unaware of their problem.
  • In the second stage, contemplation, the patient realises the reality of their illness: this is not an action, but a realisation.
  • It is not until the third stage, preparation, that the patient is likely to take action, and prepares to move forward. This could be as simple as researching or contacting therapists.
  • Finally, in stage 4, the patient takes action and receives treatment.
  • In the final stage, maintenance, the patient must strengthen their change in order to prevent relapse.

After grasping acceptance and change, a patient can fully advance to mindfulness techniques.

There are six mindfulness skills used in DBT to bring the client closer to achieving a “wise mind”, the synthesis of the rational mind and emotion mind: three “what” skills (observe, describe, participate) and three “how” skills (nonjudgementally, one-mindfully, effectively).

Distress Tolerance

Many current approaches to mental health treatment focus on changing distressing events and circumstances such as dealing with the death of a loved one, loss of a job, serious illness, terrorist attacks and other traumatic events. They have paid little attention to accepting, finding meaning for, and tolerating distress. This task has generally been tackled by person-centred, psychodynamic, psychoanalytic, gestalt, or narrative therapies, along with religious and spiritual communities and leaders. Dialectical behaviour therapy emphasizes learning to bear pain skilfully. This module outlines healthy coping behaviours intended to replace harmful ones, such as distractions, improving the moment, self-soothing, and practicing acceptance of what is.

Distress tolerance skills constitute a natural development from DBT mindfulness skills. They have to do with the ability to accept, in a non-evaluative and non-judgemental fashion, both oneself and the current situation. Since this is a non-judgmental stance, this means that it is not one of approval or resignation. The goal is to become capable of calmly recognizing negative situations and their impact, rather than becoming overwhelmed or hiding from them. This allows individuals to make wise decisions about whether and how to take action, rather than falling into the intense, desperate, and often destructive emotional reactions that are part of borderline personality disorder.

Emotion Regulation

Individuals with borderline personality disorder and suicidal individuals are frequently emotionally intense and labile. They can be angry, intensely frustrated, depressed, or anxious. This suggests that these clients might benefit from help in learning to regulate their emotions. DBT skills for emotion regulation include:

  • Identify and label emotions.
  • Identify obstacles to changing emotions.
  • Reduce vulnerability to emotion mind.
  • Increase positive emotional events.
  • Increase mindfulness to current emotions.
  • Take opposite action.
  • Apply distress tolerance techniques.

Emotional regulation skills are based on the theory that intense emotions are a conditioned response to troublesome experiences, the conditioned stimulus, and therefore, are required to alter the patient’s conditioned response. These skills can be categorised into four modules: understanding and naming emotions, changing unwanted emotions, reducing vulnerability, and managing extreme conditions:

  • Learning how to understand and name emotions:
    • The patient focuses on recognising their feelings.
    • This segment relates directly to mindfulness, which also exposes a patient to their emotions.
  • Changing unwanted emotions:
    • The therapist emphasizes the use of opposite-reactions, fact-checking, and problem solving to regulate emotions.
    • While using opposite-reactions, the patient targets distressing feelings by responding with the opposite emotion.
  • Reducing vulnerability:
    • The patient learns to accumulate positive emotions and to plan coping mechanisms in advance, in order to better handle difficult experiences in the future.
  • Managing extreme conditions:
    • The patient focuses on incorporating their use of mindfulness skills to their current emotions, to remain stable and alert in a crisis.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

The three interpersonal skills focused on in DBT include self-respect, treating others “with care, interest, validation, and respect”, and assertiveness. The dialectic involved in healthy relationships involves balancing the needs of others with the needs of the self, while maintaining one’s self-respect

Tools

Specially formatted diary cards can be used to track relevant emotions and behaviours. Diary cards are most useful when they are filled out daily. The diary card is used to find the treatment priorities that guide the agenda of each therapy session. Both the client and therapist can use the diary card to see what has improved, gotten worse, or stayed the same.

Chain Analysis

Chain analysis is a form of functional analysis of behaviour but with increased focus on sequential events that form the behaviour chain. It has strong roots in behavioural psychology in particular applied behaviour analysis concept of chaining. A growing body of research supports the use of behaviour chain analysis with multiple populations.

Efficacy

Borderline Personality Disorder

DBT is the therapy that has been studied the most for treatment of borderline personality disorder, and there have been enough studies done to conclude that DBT is helpful in treating borderline personality disorder. A 2009 Canadian study compared the treatment of borderline personality disorder with dialectical behaviour therapy against general psychiatric management. A total of 180 adults, 90 in each group, were admitted to the study and treated for an average of 41 weeks. Statistically significant decreases in suicidal events and non-suicidal self-injurious events were seen overall (48% reduction, p=0.03; and 77% reduction, p=0.01; respectively). No statistically-significant difference between groups were seen for these episodes (p=.64). Emergency department visits decreased by 67% (p<0.0001) and emergency department visits for suicidal behaviour by 65% (p<0.0001), but there was also no statistically significant difference between groups.

Depression

A Duke University pilot study compared treatment of depression by antidepressant medication to treatment by antidepressants and dialectical behaviour therapy. A total of 34 chronically depressed individuals over age 60 were treated for 28 weeks. Six months after treatment, statistically-significant differences were noted in remission rates between groups, with a greater percentage of patients treated with antidepressants and dialectical behaviour therapy in remission.

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD)

Exposure to complex trauma, or the experience of traumatic events, can lead to the development of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) in an individual. CPTSD is a concept which divides the psychological community. The American Psychological Association (APA) does not recognise it in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the manual used by providers to diagnose, treat and discuss mental illness), though some practitioners argue that CPTSD is separate from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

CPTSD is similar to PTSD in that its symptomatology is pervasive and includes cognitive, emotional, and biological domains, among others. CPTSD differs from PTSD in that it is believed to originate in childhood interpersonal trauma, or chronic childhood stress, and that the most common precedents are sexual traumas. Currently, the prevalence rate for CPTSD is an estimated 0.5%, while PTSD’s is 1.5%. Numerous definitions for CPTSD exist. Different versions are contributed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), and individual clinicians and researchers.

Most definitions revolve around criteria for PTSD with the addition of several other domains. While The APA may not recognise CPTSD, the WHO has recognized this syndrome in its 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). The WHO defines CPTSD as a disorder following a single or multiple events which cause the individual to feel stressed or trapped, characterised by low self-esteem, interpersonal deficits, and deficits in affect regulation. These deficits in affect regulation, among other symptoms are a reason why CPTSD is sometimes compared with borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Similarities between CPTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder

In addition to affect dysregulation, case studies reveal that patients with CPTSD can also exhibit splitting, mood swings, and fears of abandonment. Like patients with borderline personality disorder, patients with CPTSD were traumatised frequently and/or early in their development and never learned proper coping mechanisms. These individuals may use avoidance, substances, dissociation, and other maladaptive behaviours to cope. Thus, treatment for CPTSD involves stabilising and teaching successful coping behaviours, affect regulation, and creating and maintaining interpersonal connections. In addition to sharing symptom presentations, CPTSD and BPD can share neurophysiological similarities, for example, abnormal volume of the amygdala (emotional memory), hippocampus (memory), anterior cingulate cortex (emotion), and orbital prefrontal cortex (personality). Another shared characteristic between CPTSD and BPD is the possibility for dissociation. Further research is needed to determine the reliability of dissociation as a hallmark of CPTSD, however it is a possible symptom. Because of the two disorders’ shared symptomatology and physiological correlates, psychologists began hypothesising that a treatment which was effective for one disorder may be effective for the other as well.

DBT as a Treatment for CPTSD

DBT’s use of acceptance and goal orientation as an approach to behaviour change can help to instil empowerment and engage individuals in the therapeutic process. The focus on the future and change can help to prevent the individual from becoming overwhelmed by their history of trauma. This is a risk especially with CPTSD, as multiple traumas are common within this diagnosis. Generally, care providers address a client’s suicidality before moving on to other aspects of treatment. Because PTSD can make an individual more likely to experience suicidal ideation, DBT can be an option to stabilize suicidality and aid in other treatment modalities.

Some critics argue that while DBT can be used to treat CPTSD, it is not significantly more effective than standard PTSD treatments. Further, this argument posits that DBT decreases self-injurious behaviours (such as cutting or burning) and increases interpersonal functioning but neglects core CPTSD symptoms such as impulsivity, cognitive schemas (repetitive, negative thoughts), and emotions such as guilt and shame. The ISTSS reports that CPTSD requires treatment which differs from typical PTSD treatment, using a multiphase model of recovery, rather than focusing on traumatic memories. The recommended multiphase model consists of establishing safety, distress tolerance, and social relations.

Because DBT has four modules which generally align with these guidelines (Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Affect Regulation, Interpersonal Skills) it is a treatment option. Other critiques of DBT discuss the time required for the therapy to be effective. Individuals seeking DBT may not be able to commit to the individual and group sessions required, or their insurance may not cover every session.

A study co-authored by Linehan found that among women receiving outpatient care for BPD and who had attempted suicide in the previous year, 56% additionally met criteria for PTSD. Because of the correlation between borderline personality disorder traits and trauma, some settings began using DBT as a treatment for traumatic symptoms. Some providers opt to combine DBT with other PTSD interventions, such as prolonged exposure therapy (PE) (repeated, detailed description of the trauma in a psychotherapy session) or cognitive processing therapy (CPT) (psychotherapy which addresses cognitive schemas related to traumatic memories).

For example, a regimen which combined PE and DBT would include teaching mindfulness skills and distress tolerance skills, then implementing PE. The individual with the disorder would then be taught acceptance of a trauma’s occurrence and how it may continue to affect them throughout their lives. Participants in clinical trials such as these exhibited a decrease in symptoms, and throughout the 12-week trial, no self-injurious or suicidal behaviours were reported.

Another argument which supports the use of DBT as a treatment for trauma hinges upon PTSD symptoms such as emotion regulation and distress. Some PTSD treatments such as exposure therapy may not be suitable for individuals whose distress tolerance and/or emotion regulation is low. Biosocial theory posits that emotion dysregulation is caused by an individual’s heightened emotional sensitivity combined with environmental factors (such as invalidation of emotions, continued abuse/trauma), and tendency to ruminate (repeatedly think about a negative event and how the outcome could have been changed).

An individual who has these features is likely to use maladaptive coping behaviours. DBT can be appropriate in these cases because it teaches appropriate coping skills and allows the individuals to develop some degree of self-sufficiency. The first three modules of DBT increase distress tolerance and emotion regulation skills in the individual, paving the way for work on symptoms such as intrusions, self-esteem deficiency, and interpersonal relations.

Noteworthy is that DBT has often been modified based on the population being treated. For example, in veteran populations DBT is modified to include exposure exercises and accommodate the presence of traumatic brain injury (TBI), and insurance coverage (i.e. shortening treatment). Populations with comorbid BPD may need to spend longer in the “Establishing Safety” phase. In adolescent populations, the skills training aspect of DBT has elicited significant improvement in emotion regulation and ability to express emotion appropriately. In populations with comorbid substance use, adaptations may be made on a case-by-case basis.

For example, a provider may wish to incorporate elements of motivational interviewing (psychotherapy which uses empowerment to inspire behaviour change). The degree of substance use should also be considered. For some individuals, substance use is the only coping behaviour they know, and as such the provider may seek to implement skills training before target substance reduction. Inversely, a client’s substance use may be interfering with attendance or other treatment compliance and the provider may choose to address the substance use before implementing DBT for the trauma.

What is the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy?

Introduction

Beck Institute for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, a non-profit organisation located in suburban Philadelphia, is an international cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) training and resource centre.

Background

It was founded in 1994 by Aaron T. Beck and his daughter Judith S. Beck. Beck Institute offers training in CBT in a variety of forms. Its mission is “improving lives worldwide through excellence in cognitive behaviour therapy.”

Aaron T. Beck is currently Beck Institute’s President Emeritus. He is recognised as the founder of cognitive therapy, one of the elements from which cognitive behaviour therapy developed. His daughter, Judith Beck, is Beck Institute’s current President. Aaron Beck is University Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and continues to do research there, while Judith Beck is a Clinical Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at the same university. Lisa Pote is Beck Institute’s Executive Director, and Allen R. Miller is CBT Programme Director.

Among Beck Institute’s training programmes are Philadelphia Workshops held at the Beck Institute, On the Road Workshops held throughout the US, the Beck Institute Supervision programme, and Training for Organisations in which Beck faculty travel around the world to teach. Beck Institute’s workshops cover a variety of topics, including CBT for Depression, Anxiety, Personality Disorders, Youth, PTSD, Schizophrenia, and more. Beck Institute offers scholarships for therapists working with active duty military and veterans through their Soldier Suicide Prevention initiative and holds an annual scholarship competition for graduate students and faculty.

Beck Institute also runs a clinic at its location in suburban Philadelphia.

What is Behavioural Activation?

Introduction

Behavioural activation (BA) is a third generation behaviour therapy for treating depression.

It is one functional analytic psychotherapy which are based on a Skinnerian psychological model of behaviour change, generally referred to as applied behaviour analysis. This area is also a part of what is called clinical behaviour analysis (CBA) and makes up one of the most effective practices in the professional practice of behaviour analysis. The technique can also be used from a cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) framework.

Overview

The Beck Institute describes BA as “getting clients more active and involved in life by scheduling activities that have the potential to improve their mood.”

Theoretical Underpinnings

Behavioural activation emerged from a component analysis of cognitive behavioural therapy. This analysis found that any cognitive component added little to the overall treatment of depression. The behavioural component had existed as a stand-alone treatment in the early work of Peter Lewinsohn and thus a group of behaviourists decided that it might be more efficient to pursue a purer behavioural treatment for the disorder. The theory holds that not enough environmental reinforcement or too much environmental punishment can contribute to depression. The goal of the intervention is to increase environmental reinforcement and reduce punishment.

The theoretical underpinnings of behavioural activation for depression is Charles Ferster’s functional analysis of depression. Ferster’s basic model has been strengthened by further development in the study of reinforcement principles which led to the matching law and continuing theoretical advances in the possible functions of depression, as well as a look at behaviour analysis of child development in order to determine long-term patterns which may lead to dysthymia.

Methods

One behavioural activation approach to depression was as follows: participants were asked to create a hierarchy of reinforcing activities which were then rank-ordered by difficulty; participants tracked their own goals along with clinicians who used a token economy to reinforce success in moving through the hierarchy of activities; participants were measured before and after by the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and a great effect on their depression was found as a result of their treatment. This was then compared to a control group who did not receive the same treatment. The results of those who received behavioural activation treatment were markedly superior to those of the persons in the control group. Multiple clinics have since piloted and developed the treatment.

Another behavioural activation approach utilised a different methodology: clients are asked to develop an understanding of the relationship between actions and emotions, with actions being seen as the cause of emotions. An hourly self-monitoring chart is created to track activities and the impact on the mood they create for a full week. A rating scale from 1 to 10 is used for each mood change per hour. The goal is to identify depression loops. A depression loop is when a temporary coping method reduces the overall depression, such as the temporary relief provided by alcohol or other drugs, escape or avoidance or rumination. When patterns of dysfunctional responding, or loops, are identified alternative coping responses are attempted to break the loop. This method is described with the acronym “TRAP” (Trigger, Response, Avoidance Pattern) which is to be replaced with a “TRAC” (Trigger, Response, Alternate Coping response). Particular attention is given to rumination, which is provided with its own acronym RCA (Rumination Cues Action). Rumination is identified as a particularly common avoidance behaviour which worsens mood. The client is to evaluate the rumination in terms of it having improved the thing being ruminated about, providing understanding, and its emotional effects on the client. Attending to experience is suggested as an alternative to rumination as well as other possible distracting or mood improving actions.

The general program is described with the acronym ACTION (Assess behaviour/mood, Choose alternate responses, Try out those alternate responses, Integrate these alternatives, Observe results and (Now) evaluate). The goal being the understanding of the relationship between actions and emotional consequences and a systematic replacement of dysfunctional patterns with adaptive ones. Additionally, focus is given to quality sleep, and improving social functioning.

Research Support

Depression

Reviews of behavioural activation studies for depression found that it has a robust effect and that policy makers should consider it an effective treatment. A large-scale treatment study found behavioural activation to be more effective than cognitive therapy and on par with medication for treating depression. A meta-analysis study comprising 34 Randomised Control Trials found that while Behavioural Activation treatment of adults with depression showed significantly greater beneficial effect compared with control participants, compared to participants treated with CT/CBT, at post treatment there were no statistically significant differences between treatment groups. A 2009 meta-analysis showed a medium post-treatment effect size compared to psychotherapy and other treatments.

Anxiety

A 2006 study of behavioural activation being applied to anxiety appeared to give promising results. One study found it to be effective with fibromyalgia-related pain anxiety.

In the Context of Third Generation Behaviour Therapies

Behavioural activation comes under the heading clinical behaviour analysis or what is often termed third generation behaviour therapy. Other behaviour therapies are acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), as well as dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) and functional analytic psychotherapy (FAP). Behavioural activation owes its basis to Charles Ferster’s Functional Analysis of Depression (1973) which developed B.F. Skinner’s idea of depression, within his analysis of motivation, as a lack of reinforcement.

Professional Organisations

The Association for Behaviour Analysis International has a special interest group for practitioner issues, behavioural counselling, and clinical behaviour analysis. The association has larger special interest groups for behavioural medicine. It also serves as the core intellectual home for behaviour analysts.

The Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) also has an interest group in behaviour analysis, which focuses on clinical behaviour analysis.

Doctoral level behaviour analysts who are psychologists belong to the American Psychological Association’s division 25 -Behaviour analysis. APA offers a diplomate in behavioural psychology.

BA in Virtual Reality

Due to a lack of access to trained providers, physical constraints or financial reasons, many patients are not able to attend BA therapy. Researchers are trying to overcome these challenges by providing BA via Virtual Reality. The idea of the concept is to enable especially elderly adults to participate in engaging activities that they would not attend it without VR. Possibly, the so-called “BA-inspired VR protocols” will mitigate the lower mood, life satisfaction, and likelihood of depressions.

What is Experiential Avoidance?

Introduction

Experiential avoidance (EA) has been broadly defined as attempts to avoid thoughts, feelings, memories, physical sensations, and other internal experiences – even when doing so creates harm in the long-run.

The process of EA is thought to be maintained through negative reinforcement – that is, short-term relief of discomfort is achieved through avoidance, thereby increasing the likelihood that the behaviour will persist. Importantly, the current conceptualisation of EA suggests that it is not negative thoughts, emotions, and sensations that are problematic, but how one responds to them that can cause difficulties. In particular, a habitual and persistent unwillingness to experience uncomfortable thoughts and feelings (and the associated avoidance and inhibition of these experiences) is thought to be linked to a wide range of problems.

Background

EA has been popularised by recent third-wave cognitive-behavioural theories such as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). However, the general concept has roots in many other theories of psychopathology and intervention.

Psychodynamic

Defence mechanisms were originally conceptualised as ways to avoid unpleasant affect and discomfort that resulted from conflicting motivations. These processes were thought to contribute to the expression of various types of psychopathology. Gradual removal of these defensive processes are thought to be a key aspect of treatment and eventually return to psychological health.

Process-Experiential

Process-experiential therapy merges client-centred, existential, and Gestalt approaches. Gestalt theory outlines the benefits of being fully aware of and open to one’s entire experience. One job of the psychotherapist is to:

“explore and become fully aware of [the patient’s] grounds for avoidance” and to “[lead] the patient back to that which he wishes to avoid”.

Similar ideas are expressed by early humanistic theory:

“Whether the stimulus was the impact of a configuration of form, color, or sound in the environment on the sensory nerves, or a memory trace from the past, or a visceral sensation of fear or pleasure or disgust, the person would be ‘living’ it, would have it completely available to awareness…he is more open to his feelings of fear and discouragement and pain…he is more able fully to live the experiences of his organism rather than shutting them out of awareness.”

Behavioural

Traditional behaviour therapy utilises exposure to habituate the patient to various types of fears and anxieties, eventually resulting in a marked reduction in psychopathology. In this way, exposure can be thought of as “counter-acting” avoidance, in that it involves individuals repeatedly encountering and remaining in contact with that which causes distress and discomfort.

Cognitive

In cognitive theory, avoidance interferes with reappraisals of negative thought patterns and schema, thereby perpetuating distorted beliefs. These distorted beliefs are thought to contribute and maintain many types of psychopathology.

Third-Wave Cognitive-Behavioural

The concept of EA is explicitly described and targeted in more recent CBT modalities including acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), functional analytic psychotherapy (FAP), and behavioural activation (BA).

Associated Problems

  • Distress is an inextricable part of life; therefore, avoidance is often only a temporary solution.
  • Avoidance reinforces the notion that discomfort, distress and anxiety are bad, or dangerous.
  • Sustaining avoidance often requires effort and energy.
  • Avoidance limits one’s focus at the expense of fully experiencing what is going on in the present.
  • Avoidance may get in the way of other important, valued aspects of life.

Empirical Evidence

  • Laboratory-based thought suppression studies suggest avoidance is paradoxical, in that concerted attempts at suppression of a particular thought often leads to an increase of that thought.
  • Studies examining emotional suppression and pain suppression suggest that avoidance is ineffective in the long-run. Conversely, expressing unpleasant emotion results in short-term increases in arousal, but long-term decreases in arousal.
  • Exposure-based therapy techniques have been shown to be effective in treating a wide range of psychiatric disorders.
  • Numerous self-report studies have linked EA and related constructs (avoidance coping, thought suppression) to psychopathology and other forms of dysfunction.

Relevance to Psychopathology

Seemingly disparate forms of pathological behaviour can be understood by their common function (i.e., attempts to avoid distress). Some examples can be seen in the Table below.

DiagnosisExample BehavioursTarget of Avoidance
Major Depressive DisorderIsolation/suicideFeelings of sadness, guilt, and/or low self-worth.
PTSDAvoiding trauma reminders, hypervigilanceMemories, anxiety, concerns of safety.
Social PhobiaAvoiding social situationsAnxiety, concerns of judgement from others.
Panic DisorderAvoiding situations that might induce panicFear, physiological sensations.
AgoraphobiaRestricting travel outside of home or other ‘safe areas’Anxiety, fear of having symptoms of panic.
Obsessive-Compulsive DisorderChecking/ritualsWorry of consequences (e.g. contamination).
Substance Use DisordersAbusing alcohol/drugsEmotions, memories, withdrawal symptoms
Eating DisordersRestricting food intake, purgingWorry about becoming ‘overweight’, fear of losing control.
Borderline Personality DisorderSelf-harm (e.g. cutting)High emotional arousal.

Relevance to Quality of Life

Perhaps the most significant impact of EA is its potential to disrupt and interfere with important, valued aspects of an individual’s life. That is, EA is seen as particularly problematic when it occurs at the expense of a person’s deeply held values. Some examples include:

  • Putting off an important task because of the discomfort it evokes.
  • Not taking advantage of an important opportunity due to attempts to avoid worries of failure or disappointment.
  • Not engaging in physical activity/exercise, meaningful hobbies, or other recreational activities due to the effort they demand.
  • Avoiding social gatherings or interactions with others because of the anxiety and negative thoughts they evoke.
  • Not being a full participant in social gatherings due to attempts to regulate anxiety relating to how others are perceiving you.
  • Being unable to fully engage in meaningful conversations with others because one is scanning for signs of danger in the environment (attempting to avoid feeling “unsafe”).
  • Inability to “connect” and sustain a close relationship because of attempts to avoid feelings of vulnerability.
  • Staying in a “bad” relationship to try to avoid discomfort, guilt, and potential feelings of loneliness a break-up might entail.
  • Losing a marriage or contact with children due to an unwillingness to experience uncomfortable feelings (e.g. achieved through drug or alcohol abuse) or symptoms of withdrawal.
  • Not attending an important graduation, wedding, funeral, or other family event to try to avoid anxiety or symptoms of panic.
  • Engaging in self-destructive behaviours in an attempt to avoid feelings of boredom, emptiness, worthlessness.
  • Not functioning or taking care of basic responsibilities (e.g. personal hygiene, waking up, showing up to work, shopping for food) because of the effort they demand and/or distress they evoke.
  • Spending so much time attempting to avoid discomfort that one has little time for anyone or anything else in life.

Measurement

Self-Report

The Acceptance and Action Questionnaire (AAQ) was the first self-report measure explicitly designed to measure EA, but has since been re-conceptualised as a measure of “psychological flexibility”. The 62-item Multidimensional Experiential Avoidance Questionnaire (MEAQ) was developed to measure different aspects of EA. The Brief Experiential Avoidance Questionnaire (BEAQ) is a 15-item measure developed using MEAQ items, which has become the most widely used measure of experiential avoidance.

What is Avoidance Coping?

Introduction

In psychology, avoidance coping is a coping mechanism and form of experiential avoidance.

It is characterized by a person’s efforts, conscious or unconscious, to avoid dealing with a stressor in order to protect oneself from the difficulties the stressor presents. Avoidance coping can lead to substance abuse, social withdrawal, and other forms of escapism. High levels of avoidance behaviours may lead to a diagnosis of avoidant personality disorder, though not everyone who displays such behaviours meets the definition of having this disorder. Avoidance coping is also a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and related to symptoms of depression and anxiety. Additionally, avoidance coping is part of the approach-avoidance conflict theory introduced by psychologist Kurt Lewin.

Literature on coping often classifies coping strategies into two broad categories: approach/active coping and avoidance/passive coping. Approach coping includes behaviours that attempt to reduce stress by alleviating the problem directly, and avoidance coping includes behaviours that reduce stress by distancing oneself from the problem. Traditionally, approach coping has been seen as the healthiest and most beneficial way to reduce stress, while avoidance coping has been associated with negative personality traits, potentially harmful activities, and generally poorer outcomes. However, avoidance coping can reduce stress when nothing can be done to address the stressor.

Measurement

Avoidance coping is measured via a self-reported questionnaire. Initially, the Multidimensional Experiential Avoidance Questionnaire (MEAQ) was used, which is a 62-item questionnaire that assesses experiential avoidance, and thus avoidance coping, by measuring how many avoidant behaviours a person exhibits and how strongly they agree with each statement on a scale of 1-6. Today, the Brief Experiential Avoidance Questionnaire (BEAQ) is used instead, containing 15 of the original 62 items from the MEAQ.

Treatment

Cognitive behavioural and psychoanalytic therapy are used to help those coping by avoidance to acknowledge, comprehend, and express their emotions. Acceptance and commitment therapy, a behavioural therapy that focuses on breaking down avoidance coping and showing it to be an unhealthy method for dealing with traumatic experiences, is also sometimes used.

Both active-cognitive and active-behavioural coping are used as replacement techniques for avoidance coping. Active-cognitive coping includes changing one’s attitude towards a stressful event and looking for any positive impacts. Active-behavioural coping refers taking positive actions after finding out more about the situation.

On This Day … 27 September

People (Births)

  • 1913 – Albert Ellis, American psychologist and author (d. 2007).

People (Deaths)

  • 2004 – John E. Mack, American psychiatrist and author (b. 1929).

Albert Ellis

Albert Ellis (27 September 1913 to 24 July 2007) was an American psychologist and psychotherapist who founded Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). He held MA and PhD degrees in clinical psychology from Columbia University, and was certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). He also founded, and was the President of, the New York City-based Albert Ellis Institute. He is generally considered to be one of the originators of the cognitive revolutionary paradigm shift in psychotherapy and an early proponent and developer of cognitive-behavioural therapies.

Based on a 1982 professional survey of US and Canadian psychologists, he was considered the second most influential psychotherapist in history (Carl Rogers ranked first in the survey; Sigmund Freud was ranked third). Psychology Today noted that, “No individual—not even Freud himself—has had a greater impact on modern psychotherapy.”

John E. Mack

John Edward Mack (04 October 1929 to 27 September 2004) was an American psychiatrist, writer, and professor and the head of the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. In 1977, Mack won the Pulitzer Prize for his book A Prince of Our Disorder on T.E. Lawrence.

As the head of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Mack’s clinical expertise was in child psychology, adolescent psychology, and the psychology of religion. He was also known as a leading researcher on the psychology of teenage suicide and drug addiction, and he later became a researcher in the psychology of alien abduction experiences.

What is Schema Therapy?

Introduction

Schema therapy was developed by Jeffrey E. Young for use in treatment of personality disorders and chronic DSM Axis I disorders, such as when patients fail to respond or relapse after having been through other therapies (for example, traditional cognitive behavioural therapy, CBT). Schema therapy is an integrative psychotherapy combining theory and techniques from previously existing therapies, including CBT, psychoanalytic object relations theory, attachment theory, and Gestalt therapy.

Concepts

Four main theoretical concepts in schema therapy are early maladaptive schemas (or simply schemas), coping styles, modes, and basic emotional needs:

  1. In cognitive psychology, a schema is an organised pattern of thought and behaviour. It can also be described as a mental structure of preconceived ideas, a framework representing some aspect of the world, or a system of organizing and perceiving new information. In schema therapy, a schema specifically refers to an early maladaptive schema, defined as a pervasive self-defeating or dysfunctional theme or pattern of memories, emotions, and physical sensations, developed during childhood or adolescence and elaborated throughout one’s lifetime. Often they have the form of a belief about the self or the world. For instance, a person with an Abandonment schema could be hypersensitive (have an “emotional button” or “trigger”) about their perceived value to others, which in turn could make them feel sad and panicky in their interpersonal relationships.
  2. Coping styles are a person’s behavioural responses to schemas. There are three potential coping styles. In “avoidance” the person tries to avoid situations that activate the schema. In “surrender” the person gives into the schema, doesn’t try to fight against it, and changes their behaviour in expectation that the feared outcome is inevitable. In “counterattack”, also called “overcompensation”, the person puts extra work into not allowing the schema’s feared outcome to happen. These maladaptive coping styles (overcompensation, avoidance, or surrender) very often wind up reinforcing the schemas. Continuing the Abandonment example: having imagined a threat of abandonment in a relationship and feeling sad and panicky, a person using an avoidance coping style might then behave in ways to limit the closeness in the relationship to try to protect themselves from being abandoned. The resulting loneliness or even actual loss of the relationship could easily reinforce the person’s Abandonment schema. Another example can be given for the Defectiveness schema: A person using an avoidance coping style might avoid situations that make them feel defective, or might try to numb the feeling with addictions or distractions. A person using a surrender coping style might tolerate unfair criticism without defending themselves. A person using the counterattack/overcompensation coping style might put extra effort into being superhuman.
  3. Modes are mind states that cluster schemas and coping styles into a temporary “way of being” that a person can shift into occasionally or more frequently. For example, a Vulnerable Child mode might be a state of mind encompassing schemas of Abandonment, Defectiveness, Mistrust/Abuse and a coping style of surrendering (to the schemas).
  4. If a patient’s basic emotional needs are not met in childhood, then schemas, coping styles, and modes can develop. Some basic needs that have been identified are: connection, mutuality, reciprocity, flow, and autonomy. For example, a child with unmet needs around connection – perhaps due to parental loss to death, divorce, or addiction – might develop an Abandonment schema.

The goal of schema therapy is to help patients meet their basic emotional needs by helping the patient learn how to:

  • Heal schemas by diminishing the intensity of emotional memories comprising the schema and the intensity of bodily sensations, and by changing the cognitive patterns connected to the schema; and
  • Replace maladaptive coping styles and responses with adaptive patterns of behaviour.

Techniques used in schema therapy including limited reparenting and Gestalt therapy psychodrama techniques such as imagery re-scripting and empty chair dialogues (Refer to techniques in schema therapy, below).

There is a growing literature of outcome studies on schema therapy, where schema therapy has shown impressive results (Refer to outcome studies on schema therapy, below).

Early Maladaptive Schemas

Refer to List of Maladaptive Schemas.

Early maladaptive schemas are self-defeating emotional and cognitive patterns established from childhood and repeated throughout life. They may be made up of emotional memories of past hurt, tragedy, fear, abuse, neglect, unmet safety needs, abandonment, or lack of normal human affection in general. Early maladaptive schemas can also include bodily sensations associated with such emotional memories. Early maladaptive schemas can have different levels of severity and pervasiveness: the more severe the schema, the more intense the negative emotion when the schema is triggered and the longer it lasts; the more pervasive the schema, the greater the number of situations that trigger it.

Schema Domains

Schema domains are five broad categories of unmet needs into which are grouped 18 early maladaptive schemas identified by Young, Klosko & Weishaar (2003):

  • Disconnection/Rejection includes 5 schemas:
    • Abandonment/Instability.
    • Mistrust/Abuse.
    • Emotional Deprivation.
    • Defectiveness/Shame.
    • Social Isolation/Alienation.
  • Impaired Autonomy and/or Performance includes 4 schemas:
    • Dependence/Incompetence.
    • Vulnerability to Harm or Illness.
    • Enmeshment/Undeveloped Self.
    • Failure.
  • Impaired Limits includes 2 schemas:
    • Entitlement/Grandiosity.
    • Insufficient Self-Control and/or Self-Discipline.
  • Other-Directedness includes 3 schemas:
    • Subjugation.
    • Self-Sacrifice.
    • Approval-Seeking/Recognition-Seeking.
  • Over-vigilance/Inhibition includes 4 schemas:
    • Negativity/Pessimism.
    • Emotional Inhibition.
    • Unrelenting Standards/Hypercriticalness.
    • Punitiveness.

Schema Modes

Schema modes are momentary mind states which every human being experiences at one time or another. A schema mode consists of a cluster of schemas and coping styles. Life situations that a person finds disturbing or offensive, or arouse bad memories, are referred to as “triggers” that tend to activate schema modes. In psychologically healthy persons, schema modes are mild, flexible mind states that are easily pacified by the rest of their personality. In patients with personality disorders, schema modes are more severe, rigid mind states that may seem split off from the rest of their personality.

Identified Schema Modes

Young, Klosko & Weishaar (2003) identified 10 schema modes grouped into four categories. The four categories are: Child modes, Dysfunctional Coping modes, Dysfunctional Parent modes, and the Healthy Adult mode. The four Child modes are: Vulnerable Child, Angry Child, Impulsive/Undisciplined Child, and Happy Child. The three Dysfunctional Coping modes are: Compliant Surrenderer, Detached Protector, and Overcompensator. The two Dysfunctional Parent modes are: Punitive Parent and Demanding Parent.

Angry ChildThis is fuelled mainly by feelings of victimisation or bitterness, leading towards negativity, pessimism, jealousy, and rage. While experiencing this schema mode, a patient may have urges to yell, scream, throw/break things, or possibly even injure themselves or harm others. The Angry Child schema mode is enraged, anxious, frustrated, self-doubting, feels unsupported in ideas and vulnerable.
Impulsive ChildThis is the mode where anything goes. Behaviours of the Impulsive Child schema mode may include reckless driving, substance abuse, cutting oneself, suicidal thoughts, gambling, or fits of rage, such as punching a wall when “triggered” or laying blame of circumstantial difficulties upon innocent people. Unsafe sex, rash decisions to run away from a situation without resolution, tantrums perceived by peers as infantile, and so forth are a mere few of the behaviours which a patient in this schema mode might display. Impulsive Child is the rebellious and careless schema mode.
Detached ProtectorThis is based in escape. Patients in Detached Protector schema mode withdraw, dissociate, alienate, or hide in some way. This may be triggered by numerous stress factors or feelings of being overwhelmed. When a patient with insufficient skills is in a situation involving excessive demands, it can trigger a Detached Protector response mode. Stated simply, patients become numb in order to protect themselves from the harm or stress of what they fear is to come, or to protect themselves from fear of the unknown in general.
Abandoned ChildThis is the mode in which a patient may feel defective in some way, thrown aside, unloved, obviously alone, or may be in a “me against the world” mindset. The patient may feel as though peers, friends, family, and even the entire world have abandoned them. Behaviours of patients in Abandoned Child mode may include (but are not limited to) falling into major depression, pessimism, feeling unwanted, feeling unworthy of love, and perceiving personality traits as irredeemable flaws. Rarely, a patient’s self-perceived flaws may be intentionally withheld on the inside; when this occurs, instead of showing one’s true self, the patient may appear to others as “egotistical”, “attention-seeking”, selfish, distant, and may exhibit behaviours unlike their true nature. The patient might create a narcissistic alter-ego/persona in order to escape or hide the insecurity from others. Due to fear of rejection, of feeling disconnected from their true self and poor self-image, these patients, who truly desire companionship/affection, may instead end up pushing others away.
Punitive ParentThis is identified by beliefs of a patient that they should be harshly punished, perhaps due to feeling “defective”, or making a simple mistake. The patient may feel that they should be punished for even existing. Sadness, anger, impatience, and judgement are directed to the patient and from the patient. The Punitive Parent has great difficulty in forgiving themselves even under average circumstances in which anyone could fall short of their standards. The Punitive Parent does not wish to allow for human error or imperfection, thus punishment is what this mode seeks.
Healthy AdultThis is the mode that schema therapy aims to help a patient achieve as the long-lasting state of well-being. The Healthy Adult is comfortable making decisions, is a problem-solver, thinks before acting, is appropriately ambitious, sets limits and boundaries, nurtures self and others, forms healthy relationships, takes on all responsibility, sees things through, and enjoys/partakes in enjoyable adult activities and interests with boundaries enforced, takes care of their physical health, and values themselves. In this schema mode the patient focuses on the present day with hope and strives toward the best tomorrow possible. The Healthy Adult forgives the past, no longer sees themselves as a victim (but as a survivor), and expresses all emotions in ways which are healthy and cause no harm.

Techniques in Schema Therapy

Treatment plans in schema therapy generally encompass three basic classes of techniques: cognitive, experiential, and behavioural (in addition to the basic healing components of the therapeutic relationship). Cognitive strategies expand on standard CBT techniques such as listing pros and cons of a schema, testing the validity of a schema, or conducting a dialogue between the “schema side” and the “healthy side”. Experiential and emotion focused strategies expand on standard Gestalt therapy psychodrama and imagery techniques. Behavioural pattern-breaking strategies expand on standard behaviour therapy techniques, such as role playing an interaction and then assigning the interaction as homework. One of the most central techniques in schema therapy is the use of the therapeutic relationship, specifically through a process called “limited reparenting”.

Specific techniques often used in schema therapy include flash cards with important therapeutic messages, created in session and used by the patient between sessions, and the schema diary – a template or workbook that is filled out by the patient between sessions and that records the patient’s progress in relation to all the theoretical concepts in schema therapy.

Schema Therapy and Psychoanalysis

From an integrative psychotherapy perspective, limited reparenting and the experiential techniques, particularly around changing modes, could be seen as actively changing what psychoanalysis has described as object relations. Historically, mainstream psychoanalysis tended to reject active techniques – such as Fritz Perls’ Gestalt therapy work or Franz Alexander’s “corrective emotional experience” – but contemporary relational psychoanalysis (led by analysts such as Lewis Aron, and building on the ideas of earlier unorthodox analysts such as Sándor Ferenczi) is more open to active techniques. It is notable that in a head to head comparison of a psychoanalytic object relations treatment (Otto F. Kernberg’s transference focused psychotherapy) and schema therapy, the latter has been demonstrated to be more effective in treating Borderline Personality Disorder.

Outcome Studies on Schema Therapy

Schema Therapy vs Transference Focused Psychotherapy Outcomes

Dutch investigators, including Josephine Giesen-Bloo and Arnoud Arntz (the project leader), compared schema therapy (also known as schema focused therapy or SFT) with transference focused psychotherapy (TFP) in the treatment of borderline personality disorder. 86 patients were recruited from four mental health institutes in the Netherlands. Patients in the study received two sessions per week of SFT or TFP for three years. After three years, full recovery was achieved in 45% of the patients in the SFT condition, and in 24% of those receiving TFP. One year later, the percentage fully recovered increased to 52% in the SFT condition and 29% in the TFP condition, with 70% of the patients in the SFT group achieving “clinically significant and relevant improvement”. Moreover, the dropout rate was only 27% for SFT, compared with 50% for TFP.

Patients began to feel and function significantly better after the first year, with improvement occurring more rapidly in the SFT group. There was continuing improvement in subsequent years. Thus investigators concluded that both treatments had positive effects, with schema therapy clearly more successful.

Less Intensive Outpatient, Individual Schema Therapy

Dutch investigators, including Marjon Nadort and Arnoud Arntz, assessed the effectiveness of schema therapy in the treatment of borderline personality disorder when utilised in regular mental health care settings. A total of 62 patients were treated in eight mental health centres located in the Netherlands. The treatment was less intensive along a number of dimensions including a shift from twice weekly to once weekly sessions during the second year. Despite this, there was no lessening of effectiveness with recovery rates that were at least as high and similarly low dropout rates.

Pilot Study of Group Schema Therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder

Investigators Joan Farrell, Ida Shaw and Michael Webber at the Indiana University School of Medicine Centre for BPD Treatment & Research tested the effectiveness of adding an eight-month, 30-session schema therapy group to treatment-as-usual (TAU) for borderline personality disorder (BPD) with 32 patients. The dropout rate was 0% for those patients who received group schema therapy in addition to TAU and 25% for those who received TAU alone. At the end of treatment, 94% of the patients who received group schema therapy in addition to TAU compared to 16% of the patients receiving TAU alone no longer met BPD diagnostic criteria. The schema therapy group treatment led to significant reductions in symptoms and global improvement in functioning. The large positive treatment effects found in the group schema therapy study suggest that the group modality may augment or catalyse the active ingredients of the treatment for BPD patients. As of 2014, a collaborative randomised controlled trial is under way at 14 sites in six countries to further explore this interaction between groups and schema therapy.

Book: An Introduction to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: Skills and Applications

Book Title:

An Introduction to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: Skills and Applications.

Author(s): Helen Kennerley, Joan Kirk, and David Westbrook.

Year: 2016.

Edition: Third (3rd).

Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Type(s): Hardcover, Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

This bestselling guide to the basic theory, skills and applications of cognitive behaviour therapy is fully updated to reflect recent developments in CBT theory. It includes in-depth material on working with diversity, and new case studies and exercises to help you reflect and explore how theory can be used to develop effective practice.

The Companion Website features over 40 videos illustrating the CBT skills and strategies discussed in the book, including:

  • Measuring CBT’s effectiveness.
  • Socratic method and applications.
  • Physical techniques and behavioural experiments.
  • Applications of CBT to specific client disorders.
  • Using supervision in CBT.