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The Official Publication of the Philadelphia Behavior Therapy Association

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  • 08/25/2023 7:59 AM | Anonymous

    Lucas S. LaFreniere, PhD - Skidmore College

    Can you recall a time you enjoyed something to the fullest? Seriously—a time you wholeheartedly relished an experience, delighting in it as deeply and as long as you could? In essence, I’m asking about enjoying on purpose. Positive emotions can be fleeting if they’re not captured. We often accept them passively as they come to us, yet fail to actively seek them out, embrace them, and hold on. Savoring practices offer us ways to do this embracing—to deliberately engage with joy and make it last. This active approach to good feelings has clinical utility for both reducing psychopathology and increasing happiness. In studies, savoring has reduced clinical levels of worry, anxiety, and depression symptoms (Bolier et al., 2013; Craske et al., 2019; Doorley & Kashdan, 2021; Garland et al., 2010; Gloria & Steinhardt, 2016; LaFreniere & Newman, 2023a, 2023b; Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009), lessened attentional bias to negative information (Smith et al., 2006), and built resilience to and recovery from adversity (Catalino et al., 2014; Fredrickson et al., 2000). At the same time, savoring increases the frequency and intensity of positive emotions (Kiken et al., 2017; LaFreniere & Newman, 2023b; Quoidbach et al., 2010; Rosen & LaFreniere, 2023; Smith & Bryant, 2017; Wilson & MacNamara, 2021), while magnifying the beneficial effects of positive events on mood and cognition (Corman et al., 2020; Jose et al., 2012; Wilson & MacNamara, 2021). In short, if we get better at feeling our good feelings, we can feel good. Although a variety of empirical studies now support the use of savoring in treatment (e.g., Craske et al., 2019; LaFreniere & Newman, 2023b; Rosen & LaFreniere, 2023), few explain how to actually put it into practice. This three-part primer aims to teach readers how to implement savoring techniques for improving mental health. We’ll cover core concepts and psychoeducation here in part 1, move on to specific procedures and exercises  in part 2, and finish with common challenges and solutions in part 3. Of course, please do refer to scientific studies on the clinical mechanisms and outcomes of savoring (this is a good start: LaFreniere & Newman, 2023a). Yet here we’ll face the feet-on-the-ground, hands-in-the-dirt work of actually training purposeful enjoyment.

    The Key Concepts of Savoring

    Training clients in savoring skills starts with psychoeducation. As with any quality psychoed., clearly defining our skill is a good first step. Savoring is intentionally attending to, amplifying, and extending the duration of positive emotions. The big idea here is that savoring maximizes engagement with positive emotions—both in their intensity and their timespan. It’s like plunging a big brazen spoon into the moment, then taking a slow, enrapt, delighted mouthful. To get more technical, savoring includes three processes: Noticing, intensifying, and prolonging. First, when savoring, we (1) notice our positive emotions. We consciously feel them when they arise, turning our mind to them on purpose. Since we can’t physically “show” clients how to notice, it helps to use some metaphorical language. ‘Noticing’ language can include words like bask, soak, engage, immerse, experience it fully, touch, absorb, and inhabit. Second, when we savor, we also try to (2) intensify the strength of our positive emotions. ‘Intensify’ can be communicated with phrases like fan the flame, whip up, juice, swell, amplify, boost, empower, and rally. Lastly, when we savor, we also (3) prolong positive emotions for as long as we can. We hold on to them, dwell on them, sustain them, draw them out, perpetuate them, and keep them going. So savoring is noticing, intensifying, and prolonging positive emotions. Both clinicians and clients should hold all three of these processes in mind, encouraging or attempting each one.

    Now, a crucial element of savoring is that it is purposeful. When we savor, we make a deliberate, conscious choice to enjoy. It’s enjoyment not as a reflex, but as an act of intentional mission. Often people have lived their lives counting on external events, milestones, or winfalls to “bestow” their happiness upon them (“when I find the right partner... when I get this stress out of my life... when I finally retire...”). In savoring, we’re not waiting on situational changes to “make us happy” in a passive, automatic way. Our goal for clients is to actively grasp the good feelings already available to them. Here are some examples: A) Purposefully focusing your attention on how happy you feel when you’re out with friends; B) Dwelling on the joy you experience while listening to a song you love; C) When you succeed at the office, intentionally amping up your celebratory feelings and keeping them going (“Drinks after work anyone?”).

    Components of Savoring: Targets, Emotions, and Attention

    Any act of savoring has three components: A target, an emotion, and our attention. Notice that in each of the examples above, the positive emotions arise in response to something—time with friends, music, and work success. Each of these experiences is a savoring target. A savoring target is anything that elicits positive emotions. Targets can include stimuli we sense with our five or more senses (e.g., the fuzziness of a blanket, the taste of a brownie, the sound of a chime), as well as thoughts, memories, objects, activities, or people. Honestly, a target can be any feel-good experience or thing. If it leads you to experience positive emotions, it can be a savoring target. Positive emotions are simply feelings we experience as pleasant, represented in body and mind. They include joy, amusement, interest, love, cheerfulness, empowerment, wonder, excitement, awe—any good feeling. The act of savoring is actually drawing our attention to these positive emotions—noticing them, leaning into them, and dwelling on them. Targets can drum up positive emotions without attempting to savor them, of course. Yet research shows that deliberate savoring practices amplify the strength, length, and benefits of these emotions (e.g., Wilson & MacNamara, 2021). We’re also more likely to notice good feelings if we’re trying to notice them. Thus, attention is vital. To summarize, any savoring attempt has three components: A target that spurs positive emotion, the positive emotion itself, and our attention to the positive emotion.

    Target  Positive Emotions Attention

    Savoring is like warming up by a bonfire—a metaphor you can use with clients. The wood fueling the fire is the savoring target. The fire and its heat are positive emotions. Intentionally approaching the fire, reaching out your palms, and feeling the warmth make up the act of savoring. We need all three parts—wood, fire, and will—to savor. Client work with savoring involves identifying and creating targets (fuel), as well as training skills for drawing attention to positive emotions (warming). We do so in ways that notice, intensify, and prolong the good feelings. We’ll get to concrete ways to do that in part 2 of this primer.

    First though, it's worth noting that targets have traditionally been sorted into three types (Bryant, 2003). Their distinctions are based on the target’s timeframe—past, present, or future. Reminiscing is when remembering a moment from the past generates positive emotion, which we can then savor. Vividly recalling last year’s vacation to Japan is a reminiscing target. Savoring the moment is when we savor positive emotions from the here-and-now. Enjoying the simmering sensations of a winter hot tub fits this kind of target. Anticipation is when a thought about something we expect to happen in the future gives us positive emotion (like excitement or hope). Looking forward to a weekend party is an anticipation target. You can use any of these as material for client savoring practices—memories, current experiences, or rosy expectations. Yet note that the actual savoring is always occurring in the present moment. We savor positive emotions that are here with us, now. For this reason, it’s often present-moment techniques that make for the most productive practice. You may want to prioritize ‘present’ exercises in training, both in and out of session. Note that the attention and awareness elements of classic mindfulness practices can strongly support this work. This is especially true if the client needs to first build basic attentional skills (e.g., focusing on breath, body scans, monitoring emotion, etc.). Yet even if the current moment is key, thoughts about the past or future can certainly generate positive emotions, which we then enjoy in the present.

    What Savoring Is Not

    For clients to truly grasp the meaning of savoring, it’s helpful to discuss what savoring is not. Misconceptions about savoring can interfere with clients’ adherence and success, especially if they create an unwarranted skepticism (doubts which, unfortunately, often go unspoken). By explicitly discussing common false beliefs in our psychoeducation, we can “head off” misunderstandings. First, we should acknowledge that savoring is not intended to be a cure for everything. It has important and beneficial uses, but it’s not meant to solve every ill or gather every gain. Savoring is one tool in our toolbox—a complement to the many others we have at our disposal. Oftentimes clients have misguided views that anything “positive” is juvenile, unrealistic, fraudulent, or otherwise “mockable” in some way. To present savoring as a panacea only further provokes this cynicism. Make its value clear, but be careful not to oversell it. Second, savoring is not “positive thinking”—it’s not “finding the silver lining,” nor keeping our thoughts “on the sunny side.” This is partly because savoring isn’t even about thinking—at least not primarily. Savoring is about feeling and experiencing our good feelings. Thoughts can be a target that bring up these feelings, but savoring itself is experiential. We’re not challenging negative beliefs with positive evidence here. We’re simply engaging with positive emotions. Moreover, positive thinking may invalidate or overlook the very real negative elements of client’s lives.

    Which brings me to my third point: Savoring is not suppressing pain or dismissing problems. Just as we acknowledge and validate joy in our savoring, good treatment should also acknowledge and validate client’s trials and troubles. We are savoring in addition to managing negative thoughts, emotions, and situations—not “instead of.” We don’t use savoring in the service of pushing down pain or avoiding our struggles. Savoring runs to wellbeing, not away from pain. Acceptance practices are a good complement to this work (Chin et al., 2019). Acceptance can help clients drop their wrestling match with negative emotions, freeing them up to enjoy more fully. As for savoring, it’s a means to engage with the joys that life does present to us, even amidst our challenges. Sure, there are times when we have to make life’s lemons into lemonade. But when life gives you oranges, you can just eat them raw—sweet and succulent just as they are! Savoring is juicing all the goodness life gives us, in whatever form or measure it may come.

    Continued in Part 2: Core Procedures and Exercises

    We’re far from done! To continue on and learn specific procedures and exercises for training savoring, follow this link to Part 2: A Primer for Training Savoring Skills in Psychotherapy (Part 2): Core Procedures and Exercises - COMING SOON!

    Bolier, L., Haverman, M., Westerhof, G. J., Riper, H., Smit, F., & Bohlmeijer, E. (2013). Positive psychology interventions: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. BMC Public Health, 13(1), 1-20.

    Bryant, F. B. (2003). Savoring beliefs inventory (SBI): A scale for measuring beliefs about savoring. Journal of Mental Health, 12(2), 175-196.

    Catalino, L. I., Algoe, S. B., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2014). Prioritizing positivity: An effective approach to pursuing happiness? Emotion, 14(6), 1155-1161.

    Chin, B., Lindsay, E. K., Greco, C. M., Brown, K. W., Smyth, J. M., Wright, A. G. C., & Creswell, J. D. (2019). Psychological mechanisms driving stress resilience in mindfulness training: A randomized controlled trial. Health Psychology, 38(8), 759–768.

    Corman, M., Aubret, D., Ghazal, J., Berthon, M., Chausse, P., Lohou, C., & Dambrun, M. (2020). Attentional bias modification with a new paradigm: The effect of the Detection Engagement and Savoring Positivity (DESP) task on eye-tracking of attention. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 68, 1-8.

    Craske, M. G., Meuret, A. E., Ritz, T., Treanor, M., Dour, H., & Rosenfield, D. (2019). Positive affect treatment for depression and anxiety: A randomized clinical trial for a core feature of anhedonia. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 87(5), 457-471.

    Doorley, J. D., & Kashdan, T. B. (2021). Positive and negative emotion regulation in college athletes: A preliminary exploration of daily savoring, acceptance, and cognitive reappraisal. Cognitive Therapy and Research,45(5), 598-613.

    Fredrickson, B. L., Mancuso, R. A., Branigan, C., & Tugade, M. M. (2000). The undoing effect of positive emotions. Motivation and Emotion, 24(4), 237-258.

    Garland, E. L., Fredrickson, B., Kring, A. M., Johnson, D. P., Meyer, P. S., & Penn, D. L. (2010). Upward spirals of positive emotions counter downward spirals of negativity. Clinical Psychology Review,30(7), 849-864.

    Gloria, C. T., & Steinhardt, M. A. (2016). Relationships among positive emotions, coping, resilience and mental health. Stress & Health, 32(2), 145-156.

    Jose, P. E., Lim, B. T., & Bryant, F. B. (2012). Does savoring increase happiness? A daily diary study. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7(3), 176-187.

    Kiken, L. G., Lundberg, K. B., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2017). Being present and enjoying it: Dispositional mindfulness and savoring the moment are distinct, interactive predictors of positive emotions and psychological health. Mindfulness (N Y), 8(5), 1280-1290.

    LaFreniere, L. S., & Newman, M. G. (2023a). Reducing contrast avoidance in GAD by savoring positive emotions: Outcome and mediation in a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 93, 102659.

    LaFreniere, L. S., & Newman, M. G. (2023b). Upregulating positive emotion in generalized anxiety disorder: A randomized controlled trial of the SkillJoy ecological momentary intervention. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 91(6), 381-387.

    Quoidbach, J., Berry, E. V., Hansenne, M., & Mikolajczak, M. (2010). Positive emotion regulation and well-being: Comparing the impact of eight savoring and dampening strategies. Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 368-373.

    Rosen, F. N., & LaFreniere, L. S. (2023). Savoring, worry, and positive emotion duration in generalized anxiety disorder: Assessment and interventional experiment. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 97, 102724.

    Sin, N. L., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2009). Enhancing well-being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions: A practice-friendly meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session, 65(5), 467-487.

    Smith, J. L., & Bryant, F. B. (2017). Savoring and well-being: Mapping the cognitive-emotional terrain of the happy mind. In M. D. Robinson & M. Eid (Eds.), The happy mind: Cognitive contributions to well-being (pp. 139-156). Springer.

    Smith, N. K., Larsen, J. T., Chartrand, T. L., Cacioppo, J. T., Katafiasz, H. A., & Moran, K. E. (2006). Being bad isn't always good: Affective context moderates the attention bias toward negative information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(2), 210-220.

    Wilson, K. A., & MacNamara, A. (2021). Savor the moment: Willful increase in positive emotion and the persistence of this effect across time. Psychophysiology, 58(3), e13754.

    Published August 25, 2023

  • 08/31/2022 9:14 AM | Anonymous

    Brian Pilecki, PhD - Oregon Health and Science University & Portland Psychotherapy

    Over the last decade there has been a significant increase in research on the potential of psychedelic-assisted therapy (PAT) to treat various mental health conditions. PAT was originally developed in the 1960’s and used to address such disorders as alcohol abuse and schizophrenia. Research into this novel form of treatment stopped in the early 1970’s when LSD and other psychedelics became scheduled substances that were deemed to have no medical value. Due to various factors such as loosening restrictions, the need for improvements in mental health treatment, and the persistence of advocates of psychedelics, there has been a surge of clinical research that has reconsidered PAT as a tool for addressing mental health problems. Early-stage trials indicate that psilocybin, the psychoactive component in “magic mushrooms,” may be effective in treating end-of-life anxiety, treatment-resistant depression, major depressive disorder, and substance use disorders (Agin-Liebes et al., 2020; Bogenschutz et al., 2015; Carhart-Harris et al., 2021; Davis et al., 2021; Garcia-Romeu et al., 2019; Griffiths et al., 2016; Luoma, Chwyl, Bathje, Davis, & Lancelotta, 2020; Swift et al., 2017). MDMA, a drug more commonly known as “molly” or “ecstasy,” has also been tested in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and  shown to result in large effect size differences compared to placebo controls in Phase II and Phase 3 trials (Mitchell et al., 2019; Mithoefer et al., 2019). The FDA granted breakthrough therapy status to both MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD (Feduccia, 2019) and psilocybin-assisted therapy for treatment-resistant depression (Lowe et al., 2021). It estimated that each will become approved and available treatments sometime over the next several years.

    PAT is a unique combination of both psychotherapy and a drug-induced altered state of consciousness. While PAT differs based upon the particular psychedelic that is used, there is a basic model emerging from the clinical trials that involves three components (Schenberg, 2018). First, in preparation sessions, participants are provided with basic information about the drug that they will be taking, what to expect on the day of ingestion, and how this treatment relates to their mental health problems. A safe, supportive environment is created with typically two therapists present throughout all the sessions. Second, the dosing session involves taking the drug and can last anywhere from 3-8 hours depending on the length of effects. With the aid of eyeshades and music, participants are mostly encouraged to focus on their inner experience while therapists employ a non-directive, open, and supportive approach. Finally, integration sessions involve processing the experience with a focus on how new thoughts, feelings, or memories may relate to the participant’s treatment goals. Because psychedelic experiences do not automatically translate to behavior change, integration sessions are important in helping enhance therapeutic benefits associated with psychedelics.

    The legal status of psychedelics can be confusing. Many clients encounter news about PAT or decriminalization of psychedelics, but often do not realize that psychedelics remain largely illegal. Some clients are looking to use psychedelics now and are bringing this interest up for discussion with their current therapist. Therefore, it is helpful for therapists to have some basic knowledge of psychedelics and how they might be relevant for certain conditions. Some therapists with a specialty in this area offer harm reduction and integration therapy for clients who are using psychedelics on their own (Gorman, Nielson, Molinar, Cassidy, & Sabbagh 2021). While incorporating clients’ use of illegal drugs may sound risky to professionals, there are several guidelines that can help providers understand the associated risks and ways to mitigate them (Pilecki, Luoma, Bathje, Rhea, & Narloch, 2021). For example, make it clear on your website that you don’t provide illegal drugs and obtain CE’s related to psychedelic integration to demonstrate competence in this burgeoning clinical area.

    While most early research on PAT has focused on outcomes using symptom severity measures, there has been less focus on underlying processes of change relevant to PAT. Understanding why psychedelic experiences produce therapeutic change is important in informing the psychotherapy components (e.g. preparation, integration) of PAT. For example, some evidence suggests that the degree to which a participant has a mystical experience predicts outcomes related to reductions in anxiety and depression in a trial of psilocybin-assisted therapy for end-of-life distress (Griffiths et al., 2016). Investigation into what therapy models are the best fit for PAT is still in its infancy, as there are not yet any trials comparing different psychotherapy interventions for psilocybin or MDMA. CBT (Yaden et al., 2022) and ACT (Luoma, Sabucedo, Eriksson, Gates, & Pilecki, 2019) have been identified as good candidates for informing PAT, and many of the recent psilocybin trials have already used ACT as a foundation for their therapeutic models. I am one of the study therapists on a clinical trial of MDMA-assisted therapy for social anxiety disorder that is taking place at Portland Psychotherapy (Lear, Smith, Pilecki, Stauffer, & Luoma, under review). One of our aims is to better understand how MDMA might enhance underlying processes of psychological flexibility that lead to therapeutic growth in individuals with social anxiety.

    While recent research has demonstrated that both psilocybin and MDMA can be administered safely in the context of psychedelic-assisted therapy, using psychedelics is not without risk. In uncontrolled environments, such as taking psychedelics in a public setting (e.g. club, music festival), there is greater potential for psychological difficulties to occur, such as paranoia and fear. Taking a psychedelic, especially at substantive doses such as those used in the trials, is often an ordeal and should be approached with thoughtfulness and preparation. When in the safe container of a therapeutic environment, challenging experiences with psychedelics can be navigated well and often result in therapeutic growth. In many ways, this is no different that standard therapy that often involves confronting painful emotions or memories. Another risk of taking psychedelics in any context is that one is place into a vulnerable state in which even physical mobility may be dependent on others. As a result, the potential for abuse and boundary violations may be greater than in traditional psychotherapy. Finally, PAT will likely be initially expensive and may not be covered by insurance. This creates problems such as lack of access for marginalized populations.

    In summary, we are just beginning to scratch the surface of understanding about under what conditions and for whom  PAT may be helpful or not and , how to best use psychotherapy to support growth from psychedelic experiences, and how this new treatment works. However, initial data from rigorous placebo-controlled randomized trials suggests that PAT may be another tool that we can use, especially in cases where clients have not responded to existing treatment options.

    Agin-Liebes, G. I., Malone, T., Yalch, M. M., Mennenga, S. E., Ponté, K. L., Guss, J., Bossis, A. P., Grigsby, J., Fischer, S., & Ross, S. (2020). Long-term follow-up of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for psychiatric and existential distress in patients with life-threatening cancer. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 34, 155-166.

    Bogenschutz, M. P., Forcehimes, A. A., Pommy, J. A., Wilcox, C. E., Barbosa, P. C. R., & Strassman, R. J. (2015). Psilocybin-assisted treatment for alcohol dependence: A proof-of-concept study. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 29, 289–299.

    Carhart-Harris, R., Giribaldi, B., Watts, R., Baker-Jones, M., Murphy-Beiner, A., Murphy, R., Martell, J., Blemings, A., Erritzoe, D., & Nutt, D. J. (2021). Trial of psilocybin versus escitalopram for depression. New England Journal of Medicine384(15), 1402-1411.

    Davis, A. K., Barrett, F. S., May, D. G., Cosimano, M. P., Sepeda, N. D., Johnson, M. W., Finan, P. H., & Griffiths, R. R. (2021). Effects of psilocybin-assisted therapy on major depressive disorder: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry78, 481-489.

    Feduccia, A. A., Jerome, L., Yazar-Klosinski, B., Emerson, A., Mithoefer, M. C., & Doblin, R. (2019). Breakthrough for Trauma Treatment: Safety and Efficacy of MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy Compared to Paroxetine and Sertraline. Frontiers in psychiatry10, 650.

    Garcia-Romeu, A., Davis, A. K., Erowid, F., Erowid, E., Griffiths, R. R., & Johnson, M. W. (2019). Cessation and reduction in alcohol consumption and misuse after psychedelic use. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England)33, 1088–1101.

    Gorman, I., Nielson, E.M., Molinar, A., Cassidy, K., & Sabbagh, J. (2021). Psychedelic harm reduction and integration: A transtheoretical model for clinical practice. Frontiers in Psychology, 12:645246.

    Griffiths, R. R., Johnson, M. W., Carducci, M. A., Umbricht, A., Richards, W. A., Richards, B. D.Cosimano, M. P., & Klinedust, M. A. (2016). Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 30,1181–1197.

    Lear, K.M., Smith, S.M., Pilecki, B., Stauffer, C., & Luoma, J. (under review). Social anxiety and MDMA-assisted therapy investigation (SAMATI): A novel clinical trial protocol.

    Lowe, H., Toyang, N., Steele, B., Valentine, H., Grant, J., Ali, A., Ngwa, W., & Gordon, L. (2021). The Therapeutic Potential of Psilocybin. Molecules26, 2948.

    Luoma, J.B., Sabucedo, P., Eriksson, J., Gates, N.A., & Pilecki, B. (2019). Toward a contextual psychedelic-assisted therapy: Perspectives from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and contextual behavioral science. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 14, 136-145.

    Luoma, J. B., Chwyl, C., Bathje, G. J., Davis, A. K., & Lancelotta, R. (2020). A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials of psychedelic-assisted therapy. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 52, 288-299.

    Mitchell, J. M., Bogenschutz, M., Lilienstein, A., Harrison, C., Kleiman, S., Parker-Guilbert, K., Ot'alora G, M., Garas, W., Paleos, C., Gorman, I., Nicholas, C., Mithoefer, M., Carlin, S., Poulter, B., Mithoefer, A., Quevedo, S., Wells, G., Klaire, S. S., van der Kolk, B., Tzarfaty, K., … Doblin, R. (2021). MDMA-assisted therapy for severe PTSD: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase 3 study. Nature medicine27, 1025–1033.

    Mithoefer, M. C., Feduccia, A. A., Jerome, L., Mithoefer, A., Wagner, M., Walsh, Z., Hamilton, S., Yazar-Klosinski, B., Emerson, A., & Doblin, R. (2019). MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of PTSD: study design and rationale for phase 3 trials based on pooled analysis of six phase 2 randomized controlled trials. Psychopharmacology236, 2735–2745.

    Pilecki, B., Luoma, J., Bathje, G.J., Rhea, J., & Narloch, V.F. (2021). Ethical and legal issues in psychedelic harm reduction and integration therapy. Harm Reduction Journal, 18, 40.

    Schenberg E. E. (2018). Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy: A Paradigm Shift in Psychiatric Research and Development. Frontiers in pharmacology9, 733.

    Swift, T. C., Belser, A. B., Agin-Liebes, G., Devenot, N., Terrana,S., Friedman, H. L., Guss, J., Bossis, A. P., & Ross, S. (2017). Cancer at the dinner table: Experiences of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of cancer-related distress. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 57, 488–519.

    Yaden, D. B., Earp, D., Graziosi, M., Friedman-Wheeler, D., Luoma, J. B., & Johnson, M. W. (2022). Psychedelics and Psychotherapy: Cognitive-Behavioral Approaches as Default. Frontiers in Psychology13, 873279.

    Published August 31, 2022

  • 03/23/2022 9:20 AM | Anonymous

    Lizabeth Roemer, PhD - University of Massachusetts Boston

    Sue Orsillo and I recently (well, recently by pandemic times in which time has no meaning) published a therapist-focused book, Acceptance-based behavioral therapy: Treating anxiety and related challenges (2020, Guilford Press). This clinical guide is grounded in our two decades of collaborative work that began with developing an acceptance-based behavioral therapy for clients with a principal diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD; along with a range of comorbid disorders; Roemer & Orsillo, 2002; Roemer, Eustis, & Orsillo, 2021) and evolved into a flexible, conceptualization-driven acceptance-based behavioral approach to a range of clinical presentations and health promotion efforts. Our initial manualized treatment drew from several evidence-based interventions that emphasize acceptance and mindfulness (e.g., acceptance and commitment therapy [ACT]: Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999; dialectical behavior therapy [DBT]: Linehan, 1993; mindfulness-based cognitive therapy [MBCT]: Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2002), as well as other behavioral and cognitive interventions with extensive empirical support (e.g., Barlow, 2014; Borkovec & Sharpless, 2004).

    In our work, we use the term acceptance-based behavioral therapies (ABBTs; or sometimes mindfulness- and acceptance-based behavioral therapies) to define an overarching approach that explicitly emphasizes altering the way clients relate to their internal experiences (reducing reactivity and avoidance, while promoting decentering and acceptance) as a central mechanism of therapeutic change, coupled with an emphasis on helping clients to identify what matters to them and make intentional choices consistent with those values. While we draw from ACT, DBT, and MBCT strategies in our work, we also draw from more “traditional” CBT strategies such as self-monitoring, psychoeducation, adapted relaxation practices, and behavioral activation. We focus particularly on the function of interventions (i.e., helping clients change their relationships with internal experiences, increasing clients’ willingness to experience distress, helping clients to connect to what matters to them, helping clients to choose their actions intentionally), rather than adhering to strict prescriptions of the form of interventions.

    Our collaborative research with colleagues and doctoral students focused first on developing an ABBT protocol for treating clients with GAD and comorbid presenting problems. This treatment leads to significant reductions in symptoms of anxiety and depression, improvements in quality of life that is comparable to that found with applied relaxation (e.g., Roemer, Orsillo, & Salters-Pedneault, 2008; Hayes-Skelton, Roemer, & Orsillo, 2013), as well as improvements in interpersonal functioning (Millstein, Orsillo, Hayes-Skelton, & Roemer, 2015) and clinically significant increases in self-reported engagement in values-based action (Michelson, Lee, Orsillo, & Roemer, 2011). Both ABBT and applied relaxation targeted experiential avoidance and decentering and these changes predicted clinical outcomes (Eustis, Hayes-Skelton, Roemer, & Orsillo, 2016; Hayes-Skelton, Calloway, Roemer, & Orsillo, 2015), with decentering changing prior to anxiety symptoms. Clients from marginalized backgrounds reported that values clarification/action and flexibility helped with the cultural responsiveness of the therapy (Fuchs et al., 2016).  Abbreviated health promotion programs developed based on these principles also significantly reduced anxiety and depressive symptoms through programs delivered in person (Danitz & Orsillo, 2014; Danitz, Suvak, & Orsillo, 2016; Eustis, Krill Williston, Morgan, Graham, Hayes-Skelton, & Roemer, 2017) and on-line (Eustis, Hayes-Skelton, Orsillo, & Roemer, 2018; Sagon, Danitz, Suvak, & Orsillo, 2018). We also have preliminary data suggesting that individuals in the community with generalized anxiety who used our self-help workbook, Worry less, live more: The mindful way through anxiety workbook experienced significant decreases in worry, anxiety, depression and functional impairment and increases in acceptance (Serowik, Roemer, Suvak, Liverant, & Orsillo, 2019).  Correlational and experimental pilot studies have also illustrated the ways that mindfulness and values-based action may be beneficial in response to racist experiences (Graham, West, & Roemer, 2013; Graham, West, & Roemer, 2015; Miller & Orsillo, 2020; West, Graham, & Roemer, 2013). Most recently, several colleagues and I published clinical guidance for applying both mindfulness and valued living interventions to racism-related stress (Martinez, Suyemoto, Abdullah, Burnett-Ziegler & Roemer, 2022).

    In my upcoming training for PBTA, I will be drawing from this body of research, from my experience supervising clinicians in the context of randomized controlled trials and in the context of clinical practica, and from the wisdom of experts in acceptance-based and other behavioral approaches (e.g., Harrell, 2018) to provide guidance on using both mindfulness and values-based action with clients who present with a range of anxiety experiences, including those experiencing racism- and other kinds of discrimination-related stress. I will focus particularly on how to clarify values with clients and develop meaningful values-based actions, taking into account systemic factors and other complexities. I look forward to seeing many of you there!

    Barlow, D. H. (Ed). (2014). Clinical handbook of psychological disorders: A step by-step treatment manual (5th ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

    Borkovec, T. D., & Sharpless, B. (2004). Generalized anxiety disorder: Bringing cognitive-behavioral therapy into the valued present. In S. C. Hayes, V. M. Follette, & M. M. Linehan (Eds.), Mindfulness and acceptance: Expanding the cognitive-behavioral tradition (pp. 209-242). New York. NY: Guilford Press.

    Danitz, S. B., & Orsillo, S. M. (2014). The mindful way through the semester: An investigation of the effectiveness of an acceptance-based behavioral therapy program on psychological wellness in first-year students. Behavior Modification, 38, 549-566

    Danitz, S. B., Suvak, M., Orsillo, S. M. (2016). The Mindful Way Through the Semester: Evaluating the impact of integrating an acceptance-based behavioral program into a first-fear experience course for undergraduates. Behavior Therapy, 47, 487-499.

    Eustis, E.H., Hayes-Skelton, S. A., Orsillo, S. M., & Roemer, L. (2018). Surviving and thriving during stress: A randomized clinical trial comparing a brief web-based therapist assisted acceptance-based behavioral intervention versus waitlist control for college students. Behavior Therapy, 49, 889-903

    Eustis, E.H., Hayes-Skelton, S. A., Roemer, L.,&Orsillo, S.M. (2016). Reductions in experiential avoidance as a mediator of change in symptom outcome and quality of life in acceptance-based behavior therapy and applied relaxation for generalized anxiety disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 87, 188-195.

    Eustis, E. H., Williston, S. K., Morgan, L. P., Graham, J. R., Hayes-Skelton, S. A., & Roemer, L. (2017). Development, acceptability, and effectiveness of an acceptance-based behavioral stress/anxiety management workshop for university students. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 24, 174-186.

    Fuchs, C. H., West, L. M., Graham, J. R., Kalill, K. S., Morgan, L. P., Hayes-Skelton, S. A., ... & Roemer, L. (2016). Reactions to an acceptance-based behavior therapy for GAD: Giving voice to the experiences of clients from marginalized backgrounds. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice23(4), 473-484.

    Graham, J. R., West, L., & Roemer, L. (2013). The experience of racism and anxiety symptoms in an African American Sample: Moderating effects of trait mindfulness. Mindfulness, 4, 332-341.

    Graham, J. R., West, L. M., & Roemer, L. (2015). A preliminary exploration of the moderating role of valued living in the relationships between racist experiences and anxious and depressive symptoms. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 4, 48-55.

    Harrell, S. P. (2018). Soulfulness as an orientation to contemplative practice: Culture, liberation, and mindful awareness. The Journal of Contemplative Inquiry, 5(1), 9-40.

    Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (2012). Acceptance and commitment therapy: The process and practice of mindful change (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

    Hayes-Skelton, S. A., Calloway, A., Roemer, L., & Orsillo, S. M. (2015). Decentering as a potential common mechanism across two therapies for generalized anxiety disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 83, 395-404.

    Hayes-Skelton, S. A., Roemer, L., & Orsillo, S. M. (2013). A randomized clinical trial comparing an acceptance-based behavior therapy to applied relaxation for generalized anxiety disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology81(5), 761-773.

    Linehan, M. M. (1993). Diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders: Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

    Martinez, J.H., Suyemoto, K.L., Abdullah, T., Burnett-Ziegler, I., & Roemer, L. (2022). Mindfulness and valued living in the face of racism-related stress. Mindfulness. Advanced online publication.

    Michelson, S. E., Lee, J. K., Orsillo, S. M., & Roemer, L. (2011). The role of values‐consistent behavior in generalized anxiety disorder. Depression and Anxiety28(5), 358-366.

    Miller, A. & Orsillo, S. M. (2019). Values, acceptance, and belongingess in graduate school: Perspectives from underrepresented minority students. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 15, 197-206.

    Millstein, D. J., Orsillo, S. M., Hayes-Skelton, S. A., & Roemer, L. (2015). Interpersonal problems, mindfulness, and therapy outcome in an acceptance-based behavior therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy44(6), 491-501.

    Orsillo, S. M., & Roemer, L.(2016). Worry less, live more: The mindful way through anxiety workbook. New York, NY: Guilford Press

    Roemer, L., & Orsillo, S. M. (2002). Expanding our conceptualization of and treatment for generalized anxiety disorder: Integrating mindfulness/acceptance-based approaches with existing cognitive-behavioral models. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 9, 54-68.

    Roemer, L.,& Orsillo, S. M. (2020), Acceptance-based behavioral therapy: Treating anxiety and related challenges. New York: Guilford Press.

    Roemer, L., Eustis, E. H.& Orsillo, S. M. (2021). An acceptance-based behavioral therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. In D. H. Barlow (Ed). Clinical handbook of psychological disorders: A step-by-step treatment manual (6th ed., pp. 184-216). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

    Roemer, L., Orsillo, S. M., & Salters-Pedneault, K. (2008). Efficacy of an acceptance-based behavior therapy for generalized anxiety disorder: Evaluation in a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76(6), 1083-1089.

    Sagon, A. L., Danitz, S. B., Suvak, M. K., & Orsillo, S. M. (2018). The Mindful Way through the Semester: Evaluating the feasibility of delivering an acceptance-based behavioral program online. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science9, 36-44.

    Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G., & Teasdale, J. D. (2013). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

    Serowik, K.L., Roemer, L., Suvak, M. Liverant, G., & Orsillo, S.M. (2019).  A randomized controlled trial evaluating Worry Less, Live More: The Mindful Way through Anxiety Workbook. 49, 412-424.

    West, L., Graham, J. R. & Roemer, L.(2013). Functioning in the face of racism: Preliminary findings on the buffering role of values clarification in a Black American sample. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 2, 1-8.

    Published March 23, 2022

  • 02/26/2022 9:26 AM | Anonymous

    Denise M Sloan, PhD - National Center for PTSD at VA Boston Healthcare System & Boston University School of Medicine

    Nearly 20 years ago, Dr. Brian Marx and I conducted our first study of expressive writing (Sloan & Marx, 2004). We were intrigued by the results from a systematic line of research by James Pennebaker and colleagues (e.g., Pennebaker and Beall, 1986) in which they had participants write about their most traumatic or stressful life event on three consecutive days for 20 minutes each time sessions. We were quite surprised, and skeptical to be honest, with the consistent, significant symptom improvements observed across Pennebaker and colleagues’ studies as well as the hundreds of expressive writing studies that followed in their wake (for a review see, Frattaroli, 2006).  As we read the details of these studies, we were struck by the similarity of the expressive writing protocol to exposure-based treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as Prolonged Exposure (PE; Foa et al., 2019). Yet, despite the procedural similarity of asking individuals to recount the details of traumatic experiences, we were not convinced that writing about one’s trauma for only 20 minutes during three consecutive sessions would be enough of a therapeutic dose to result in significant decreases in PTSD symptoms among individuals who had experienced a bona fide traumatic stressor and had at least moderately severe PTSD symptoms. However, this was exactly what we found (Sloan & Marx, 2004).

    These initial findings made us question what was known about how to best treat PTSD and, more specifically, how many therapy sessions might be necessary for good clinical outcomes. Following our initial study, other researchers have demonstrated that PTSD can be successfully treated with fewer therapy sessions than was previously thought necessary (Galovski et al., 2012; Natsh et al., 2015; van Minnen & Foa, 2006). The results of our first study were so intriguing to us that we wanted to follow it up with a second study. The findings of that second study resulted in a series of studies examining the use of expressive writing to treat PTSD and comorbid disorders experienced by trauma survivors (see, Sloan & Marx for a summary, 2017). This work ultimately led to the development of the written exposure therapy (WET) protocol (Sloan & Marx, 2019), a five-session treatment for PTSD, with no between-session homework assignments.  

    We have conducted several randomized clinical studies examining the efficacy and effectiveness of the WET protocol. The first study found WET to be efficacious in treating PTSD among individuals who had PTSD resulting from a motor vehicle accident (Sloan et al., 2012). Not only did we observe a large difference in PTSD symptoms at follow-up between individuals assigned to WET and those randomized to a wait-list condition, but we also found that, whereas 88% of individuals randomized to the wait-list condition continued to have PTSD at follow-up, only 9% of individuals randomized to WET still met criteria for PTSD at post-treatment assessment. We also found that only 8% of the participants assigned to WET prematurely dropped out of treatment. This dropout rate is much lower than to the usual dropout rate of approximately 36% for trauma-focused treatments (Imel et al., 2013).

    The next study directly compared WET with a more time intensive (12 treatment sessions) evidence-based PTSD treatment, Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT; Resick et al., 2017). Findings indicated that 126 adults randomized to both treatment conditions had a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms (Sloan et al., 2018). Notably, despite the shorter treatment, WET was found to be non-inferior to CPT in terms of PTSD treatment outcome. Again, the number of individuals dropping out of WET was very low compared to the number of those dropping out of CPT (6% vs. 39%).  We found no differences between the two treatments in terms of treatment expectancy ratings at the beginning of treatment, treatment satisfaction ratings at the end of treatment, or client and therapist ratings of therapeutic alliance at the end of treatment (Sloan et al., 2018). Moreover, treatment gains for both WET and CPT were maintained for a year (Thompson-Hollands et al., 2018).

    These findings were replicated in a recently completed study that compared WET with the cognition only version of the CPT protocol, which does not include the written account component of the protocol (Resick et al., 2017), with 169 active duty service members with PTSD (Sloan et al., 2022). Service members randomized to both treatments displayed significant reductions in PTSD symptoms. Once again, treatment outcome for WET was non-inferior to CPT. Although the number of treatment dropouts for WET was notably higher than what we had seen previously (24%), the rate of dropout for CPT was significantly greater (45%).

    We also have findings of WET delivered in routine care settings. The United States Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has been training mental health providers in the delivery of WET for the past several years. Patient outcome data from WET being used in routine clinical practice have been collected as part of this training initiative and these findings have been recently reported (LoSavio et al., in press).  Results of this WET implementation project show significant, large reductions in PTSD symptoms. Notably, these outcomes are similar to those observed from implementation efforts within VA for both PE and CPT (Eftekhari et al., 2013). These findings further demonstrate that WET produces treatment outcomes similar to more time intensive trauma-focused treatments, even in routine care settings. In addition, WET delivered by mental health providers working in a college counseling center has also been shown to be effective in treating PTSD symptoms (Morissette et al., in press).

    Over the course of our work on WET, we have examined whether WET works better for some patients than others. Notably, we have not found any patient characteristics that impact WET treatment outcomes. More specifically, baseline PTSD symptom severity, presence of comorbid depression, substance use or other mental disorders, time since trauma exposure, number of traumas, trauma type, patient gender, age, ethnicity, race, estimated intelligence, and educational level (e.g., Marx, Thompson-Hollands, et al., 2021; LoSavio et al., in press) do not affect client outcomes for WET.  In addition, there is no treatment outcome differences found when WET is delivered in person versus remotely (LoSavio et al., in press).

    There are a number of studies in progress that are examining the utility of WET in various settings such as primary care, residential substance use programs, and inpatient psychiatry (Marx, et al., 2021). Some of these studies are also examining the spacing of treatment sessions (e.g., sessions delivered on consecutive days, multiple sessions in a day). There is a continuing effort to better understand the most efficient and effective methods to disseminate the treatment so that a greater number of providers can deliver WET (e.g., Worley et al., 2020). Lastly, the WET treatment protocol has been translated into Spanish and early results of this version of the protocol are promising (Andrews et al., in press). One area that needs greater attention is the application of WET with children and adolescents with PTSD. We have heard anecdotal reports from providers that WET can yield good outcomes with adolescents but there has yet to be an empirical study in this area.

    We have come a long way in the past 20 years in terms of both developing a more efficient treatment for PTSD and establishing that WET is an effective treatment for a variety of individuals and can be used in a variety of settings. We are pleased to hear from providers that they appreciate having another treatment approach to offer their clients.  We are excited by the number of investigators who are conducting treatment studies with WET, and we look forward to findings that will be produced by these studies.

    Andrews, A.R., Acosta, L., Acosta Canchila, M.N., Haws, J.K., Holt, N.R., Holland, K.J., & Ralston, A.L. (in press). Perceived barriers and preliminary PTSD outcomes in an open pilot trial of Written Exposure Therapy with Latinx immigrants. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice.

    Eftekhari, A., Ruzek, J. I., Crowley, J. J., Rosen, C. S., Greenbaum, M. A., & Karlin, B. E. (2013). Effectiveness of national implementation of prolonged exposure therapy in Veterans Affairs care. JAMA Psychiatry, 70(9), 949–955.

    Foa, E. B., Hembree, E. A., Rothbaum, B. O., & Rauch, S. A. (2019). Prolonged exposure therapy for PTSD: Emotional processing of traumatic experiences (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press.

    Frattaroli, J. (2006). Experimental disclosure and its moderators: a meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 823-865.

    Galovski, T. E., Blain, L. M., Mott, J. M., Elwood, L., & Houle, T. (2012). Manualized therapy for PTSD: Flexing the structure of cognitive processing therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 80(6), 968–981.

    Imel, Z. E., Laska, K., Jakupcak, M., & Simpson, T. L. (2013). Meta-analysis of dropout in treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 81(3), 394-404.

    LoSavio, S. T., Worley, C. B., Aajmain, S., Rosen, C., Stirman, S. W., & Sloan, D. M. (in press). Effectiveness of Written Exposure Therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder in the Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System. _Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. _

    Marx, B. P., Fina, B. A., Sloan, D. M., Young-McCaughan, S., Dondanville, K. A., Tyler, H. C., Blankenship, A. E., Schrader, C. C., Kaplan, A. M., Greene, V. R., Bryan, C. J., Hale, W. J., Mintz, J., & Peterson, A. L., for the STRONG STAR Consortium. (2021). Written exposure therapy for posttraumatic stress symptoms and suicide risk: Design and methodology of a randomized controlled trial with patients on a military psychiatric inpatient unit. Contemporary Clinical Trials, _110,_106564.

    Marx, B. P., Thompson-Hollands, J., Lee., D. J., Resick, P. A., & Sloan, D. M. (2021). Estimated intelligence moderates Cognitive Processing Therapy outcome for posttraumatic stress symptoms. Behavior Therapy, 52(1), 162-169.

    Morissette, S. B., Ryan-Gonzalez, C., Blessing, A., Judkins, J., Crabtree, M., Hernandez, M., Wiltsey-Stirman, S., & Sloan, D. M. (in press). Delivery of Written Exposure Therapy for PTSD in a university counseling center. Psychological Services.

    Nacasch, N., Huppert, J. D., Yi-Jen, S., Kivity, Y., Dinshtein, Y., Yeh, R., & Foa, E. B. (2015). Are 60-minute prolonged exposure sessions with 20-minute imaginal exposure to traumatic memories sufficient to successfully treat PTSD? A randomized noninferiority clinical trial. Behavior Therapy, 46, 328-341.

    Pennebaker, J. W., & Beall, S. K. (1986). Confronting a traumatic event: Toward an understanding of inhibition and disease. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95, 274–281.

    Resick, P. A., Monson, C. M., & Chard, K. M. (2017). Cognitive processing therapy for PTSD: A comprehensive manual. Guilford Press.

    Sloan, D. M., & Marx, B. P. (2004).  A closer examination of the structured written disclosure procedure.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72, 165-175.

    Sloan, D. M. & Marx, B. P. (2017). Commentary on the implementation of Written Exposure Therapy WET) for veterans diagnosed with PTSD. Pragmatic Case Studies in Psychotherapy, 13, 154-164.

    Sloan, D. M. & Marx, B. P. (2019). Written Exposure Therapy for PTSD: A Brief Treatment Approach for Mental Health Professionals. American Psychological Press.

    Sloan, D. M., Marx, B. P., Bovin, M. J., Feinstein, B. A., & Gallagher, M. W. (2012).  Written exposure as an intervention for PTSD: A randomized controlled trial with motor vehicle accident survivors.  Behaviour Research and Therapy, 50, 627-635.

    Sloan, D. M., Marx, B. P., Lee, D. J., & Resick, P. A. (2018). A brief exposure-based treatment for PTSD versus Cognitive Processing Therapy: A randomized non-inferiority clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry, 75, _233-239.

    Sloan, D. M., Marx, B. P., Resick, P. A., Young-McCaughan, S., Dondaville, K. A., Straud, C. L., Mintz, J., Litz, B., Peterson, A. L., and for the STRONG STAR Consortium (2022). Effect of Written Exposure Therapy versus Cognitive Processing Therapy on Increasing Treatment Efficiency Among Military Service Members: A Randomized Noninferiority Trial. JAMA Network Open, 5(1), e2140911.

    Thompson-Hollands, J., Marx, B. P., Lee, D. J., Resick, P. A., & Sloan, D. M. (2018). Long-term treatment gains of a brief exposure-based treatment for PTSD. Depression and Anxiety, 35- 985-991.  

    van Minnen, A., & Foa, E. B. (2006). The effect of imaginal exposure length on outcome of treatment for PTSD. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 19, 427–438.

    Worley, C.B., Losavio, S.T., Aajmain, S.A., Rosen, C., Wiltsey Stirman, S., Sloan, D.M.  (2020). Training during a pandemic: Successes, Challenges, and Practical Guidance during a virtual facilitated learning collaborative for Written Exposure Therapy. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 33(5), 634-642.

    Published February 26, 2022

  • 10/26/2018 9:29 AM | Anonymous

    Zindel Segal, PhD - University of Toronto Scarborough

    In 2015 Sona Dimidjian and I published a paper in which we examined the prospects for a clinical science of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs).  We reported that the prospects looked good on the evidence front but were less promising on the public health front.  Some might say that mindfulness-based treatments have cleared the hurdle of efficacy only to stumble over the hurdles of reach and impact. Maybe this is a natural developmental trajectory for a set of treatments that have only been around for 20-30 years. One could even argue that it makes sense to demonstrate that a given approach actually works before investing too greatly in its dissemination.  But, this argument seems shaky when we consider that Kazdin & Blase made a similar point in 2011 regarding evidence-based interventions, such as BT and CBT, that have been around far longer than MBIs – strong on the data side but weak on delivery side.

    I have experienced this phenomenon first hand in my own work with Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).  With our treatment manual now having been in print for close to 16 years, with a yearly slate of training workshops being offered and with MBCT being listed as a first line prevention intervention in a number of national Depression Treatment guidelines, it is still hard for most people to find an MBCT therapist.  This is perplexing.  I also know that I am not alone in asking; what good is a well-supported intervention if it sits on the shelf and fails to make it into the hands of those who need it most?  My response to this dilemma has been twofold.

    One strategy has involved directly focusing on MBCT dissemination and quality by providing the public with a way to find MBCT therapists who have been trained to a recognized level of competence in this approach.  Willem Kuyken and I have launched a freely available, searchable, standards-based international registry of MBCT therapists that will allow members of the public to find MBCT therapists who practice in their community.  We have named this registry ACCESS MBCT - you can search by either city or country and it will provide you with a list of registered MBCT therapists practicing in your area.  Also, if you know the name of a provider and want to see if they are listed on the registry, you can search by name as well.

    In this way, ACCESS MBCT serves a quality assurance function.  All members of ACCESS MBCT will have to have been trained according to the steps outlined in the MBCT Training Pathway . Adopting this document to set our training threshold reflects the recognition that our field has evolved from the days when having a personal mindfulness practice, a clinical background and familiarity with the contents of Segal et al., 2002 would qualify one to teach MBCT. It is increasingly clear to me that MBCT is not preferentially defined according to its mindfulness or cognitive therapy axes, but rather from the integrative embodiment of these perspectives in the act of teaching.  Not surprisingly, additional training experiences are required to develop this capacity and it is our intention that being a member of ACCESS MBCT will communicate this standard to the public.  Deciding on this particular framework for ACCESS MBCT was achieved via broad consultation and feedback.  We considered a variety of listing/registry models, with varying amounts of oversight and settled on a solution that relies on verifiable self-declarations provided by therapists/applicants interested in joining ACCESS MBCT.  Please take a few minutes to check out the ACCESS MBCT website and watch the brief video of the Digital International Announcement for the Registry that was held at the end of 2017 - you may recognize a few familiar faces at

    The second strategy to increase access to MBCT has been to digitize the in-person 8 week program and make it available online so that people could access it from the comfort of their own homes.  The program is called Mindful Mood Balance (MMB) and takes a person through 8 separate sessions that present identical content to what folks attending the in-person groups are learning and practicing.  While we have some preliminary data indicating that this program is effective in reducing residual depressive symptoms (Dimidjian et al., 2014), we are completing an RCT with 460 patients that will provide a more definitive evaluation.  We have also adapted Mindful Mood Balance so that therapists interested in learning MBCT but who can’t find a group in their neighbourhood can complete the program online. MMBPro   is now recognized as an acceptable format for both within the MBCT Training Pathway and is being used to supplement training programs in Canada, the US and the UK.

    Needless to say, my graduate training never prepared me to address issues of dissemination and implementation, but it is increasingly clear that for our field to stay relevant in the provision of empirically supported treatments, these are pivotal issues that need to be addressed.

    Dimidjian S, Beck A, Felder JN, Boggs JM, Gallop R, Segal ZV. Web-based Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy for reducing residual depressive symptoms: An open trial and quasi-experimental comparison to propensity score matched controls. Behav Res Ther. 2014 Dec;63:83-9.

    Dimidjian S, Segal ZV. Prospects for a clinical science of mindfulness-based intervention.  Am Psychol. 2015 Oct;70(7):593-620.

    Kazdin AE, Blase SL. Rebooting Psychotherapy Research and Practice to Reduce the Burden of Mental Illness. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2011 Jan;6(1):21-37.

    Published October 26, 2018

  • 06/25/2018 9:42 AM | Anonymous

    Cory Newman, PhD - Center for Cognitive Therapy, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine

    Empirical Support for CBT with Suicidal Patients

    There is a growing body of research suggesting that CBT-related approaches that specifically target suicidality lead to a reduction in suicidal behavior, at least during the critical period of time following a suicide attempt when the risk for further attempts is high (see Monti, Cedereke, & Ojehagen, 2003) and up to two years of assessed follow-up. Commonalities among the CBT-based treatment approaches reviewed below are more prominent than their relatively minor procedural and terminology differences. What they have in common is an assessment process that uses empathic interviewing, psychometrically supported measures, and a combination of functional analyses and cognitive conceptualizations in order to understand the chain reaction of external events (precipitants and consequences) and internal reactions (thoughts, feelings, physiological responses, and behaviors) that comprise the suicidal crises. Further, these approaches are alike in that they teach suicidal patients psychological skills such as self-monitoring, reflecting on their intended actions rather than responding reflexively, engaging in constructive actions, rationally responding to combat a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, reaching out to their social supports to counteract a sense of isolation, and contacting mental health professionals (including those by whom they are being treated, and others who are “on call,” such as those in hospitals and on crisis hotlines). These interventions can be used as part of a larger, general package of CBT for the full range of problems that patients bring to treatment, or they can be stand-alone treatments. When they are used as single-contact interventions in emergency departments (Stanley & Brown, 2012) or as brief treatments in inpatient facilities (e.g., Ellis & Ruffino, 2015), they can be learned and applied by well-trained mental health professionals regardless of their self-identified theoretical orientation.

    A randomized controlled trial showing the efficacy of a brief Beckian cognitive therapy protocol in reducing suicide attempts in a high-risk population was conducted by Brown, Ten Have, Henriques, Xie, Hollander, and Beck (2005). The 120 patients in this study had presented with a suicide attempt in the emergency department, and were recruited within 48 hours for random assignment either to a treatment-as-usual condition or a 10-session cognitive therapy package (identified as Cognitive Therapy for Suicide Prevention, or CT-SP) in addition to treatment as usual (all of which was conducted post-discharge). Participants in the cognitive therapy group were 50% less likely to re-attempt suicide during follow-up, and they showed significantly lower depression and hopelessness. A very similar version of brief CBT was successfully tested in a military sample of active-duty Army soldiers who had made a suicide attempt within the past month or who had suicidal ideation with intent to die in the past week (Rudd et al., 2015). Half of the cohort (n=76) was randomly assigned to the treatment-as-usual condition, and the other half (n=76) was randomly assigned to brief CBT (12 sessions) plus treatment as usual. Similar to the Brown et al. treatment study (2005), the Rudd et al. (2015) program utilized a CBT approach that specifically focused on the symptoms of suicidality (including the patients’ belief systems pertinent to their thoughts about life and death), as well as on safety planning and relapse prevention. During the two-year follow-up period, those receiving CBT were 60% less likely to make a suicide attempt.

    The Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS: Jobes, 2006; 2012) is a therapeutic approach that self-identifies as being applicable in conjunction with treatments across the theoretical spectrum but nonetheless borrows heavily from CBT methods. In a non-randomized control comparison study, CAMS was associated with reductions in suicidal ideation in comparison to treatment as usual, and was significantly linked to decreases in emergency department utilization during the 6-month follow-up period (Jobes et al., 2005). In a randomized trial, a brief course of outpatient CAMS was shown to reduce suicidal thinking and general symptom distress significantly, and to increase hopefulness and reasons for living at 12-month follow-up more so than an enhanced care-as-usual approach (Comtois et al., 2011). When provided to hospitalized patients in an individual therapy format, CAMS led to significantly greater improvements on measures specific to suicidal ideation and suicidal cognitions compared to inpatients who did not receive the CAMS interventions (Ellis, Rufino, Allen, Fowler, & Jobes, 2015).

    Safety Planning Intervention (SPI: Stanley & Brown, 2012) consists of the same steps as described earlier, but in a condensed, written format that serves as a guide to aftercare and follow-up when suicidal patients exit the emergency department following a single contact. The basic elements of the written SPI are: (1) identifying early warning signs of heightened suicide risk, (2) employing prepared, internal coping strategies, (3) utilizing social settings and contacts to distract from suicidal preoccupation, (4) contacting friends and family members for support in times of crisis; (5) contacting mental health practitioners or agencies, and (6) restricting access to lethal means. Stanley and Brown (2012) report that SPI has been used as part of other evidence-based psychotherapy interventions in clinical trial research.

    Another CBT approach that has been applied to suicidal individuals in inpatient settings is Post Admission Cognitive Therapy (PACT: Ghahramanlou-Holloway, Cox, & Greene, 2012). PACT emphasizes helping patients face the stressors that are often encountered following discharge from hospital; stressors that if not managed properly can easily trigger a relapse of suicidal thoughts, feelings, urges and behaviors. Indeed, the period of time when patients are re-acclimating to life outside of the hospital is a period of high risk for another suicide attempt (Ghahramanlou-Holloway, Neely, & Tucker, 2015). PACT has the same treatment objectives as outpatient CBT (e.g., identifying and modifying the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral factors that comprise the patient’s “suicidal mode”), but also helps patients develop the problem-solving skills they will need on the outside. The goals include improving the patient’s self-efficacy in dealing with the demands of their life situation and increasing their compliance with adjunctive medical, social, psychiatric, and substance abuse interventions both during and after hospitalization. In a highly related line of clinical research, a subset of problem-solving that focuses on emotional self-regulation and interpersonal concerns (Emotion-Centered Problem-Solving Therapy: EC-PST, Nezu & Nezu, in press) is also showing promise as a means by which to help highly distressed persons to feel more personally empowered, and to refrain from translating negative affect into self-harm.

    It is also important to acknowledge the contribution of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) to the treatment literature on suicide risk reduction (e.g., Linehan et al., 2006; Linehan et al., 2015). Although DBT is a distinct treatment that involves components of care that are not routinely included in standard CBT packages (e.g., a DBT skills group to go along with individual treatment; regular between-sessions phone contacts), DBT and the CBT approaches mentioned in this review have the same common theoretical roots. Brown et al. (2012) note that their CT-SP treatment and DBT both focus on preventing suicidal behavior by teaching high-risk patients specific coping skills. A noteworthy component of DBT is mindfulness, a self-regulation skill that itself has some empirical support as a method that reduces suicidal behavior in those at risk (see Chesin, Sonmez, Benjamin-Beeler, Brodsky, & Stanley, 2015).

    CBT can be applied to suicidal children and adolescents. For example, a randomized controlled trial conducted by Esposito-Smythers and Spirito (2004) on hospitalized adolescents with a substance use disorder and at least one suicide attempt in the previous three weeks showed the superiority of CBT over enhanced treatment as usual on outcomes related to substance use, suicide attempts, emergency department visits, and arrests. The adolescents who received CBT also showed better treatment adherence. Another CBT approach currently being applied to the treatment of suicidal adolescents is the aptly named Treatment of Adolescent Suicide Attempters (TASA: Brent et al., 2009). The authors emphasize the importance of safety planning and increased frequency of therapeutic contact early in treatment. Additionally, a treatment model for young suicidal patients that includes working with the family -- called Safe Alternatives for Teens and Youths (SAFETY) – was shown in a randomized, controlled trial to reduce suicide attempts in adolescents presenting with recent self-harm (Asarnow, Hughes, Babeva, & Sugar, 2017). The authors describe the SAFETY program as a cognitive-behavioral, dialectical behavior-therapy informed family treatment.

    Although the studies noted above suggest that even brief CBT interventions for suicidality can be efficacious, a longitudinal approach to the treatment of suicidality may be best. There is evidence that even when patients respond well to treatment they are prone to residual symptoms – including sub-optimally modified dysfunctional beliefs about suicide – that may keep them at elevated risk in the future. Also, in outpatient work with suicidal individuals, spotty attendance and early drop-out from treatment take on added significance. There is evidence that those patients who are most at risk (e.g., having a history of multiple suicide attempts) tend to be least likely to avail themselves of regular therapy sessions (see Berk, Henriques, Warman, Brown, & Beck, 2004; Joiner & Rudd, 2000). Similarly, suicidal patients who opt to discontinue therapy without having a formal concluding session to summarize their gains and formulate a maintenance plan, and/or while still demonstrating hopelessness (e.g., as assessed via their last-completed BHS) are at higher ongoing risk for suicide than those who complete treatment with a better sense of hope and direction (Dahlsgaard, Beck, & Brown, 1998). Thus, therapists cannot remain passive when their suicidal patients are absent from treatment in an unanticipated way. Instead, therapists would do well to try to reconnect with the patients, such as by calling and leaving caring messages that invite the patients to come in for an appointment as soon as possible (Brown et al., 2012). A randomized controlled trial by Motto and Bostrom (2001) also showed that even after therapy is completed, some simple acts of positive outreach (e.g., a birthday card with a pleasant message) can lower suicide risk well after termination.

    Concluding Comments

    Helping a patient to relinquish suicidal intentions and behaviors is a process. The CBT practitioner makes gradual inroads by establishing a genuinely caring therapeutic relationship, constructing a clear and comprehensive framework for the work of therapy, collaborating with the patient on a treatment plan involving skill-building and safeguarding, and offering a steady flow of words of empathy, support, encouragement, and hope. No single intervention in any given session is likely to put a definitive end to the patient’s risk for suicide. However, each intervention contributes to an incremental lowering of risk, especially if the therapist succeeds in motivating the patient to practice a range of self-help methods between therapy sessions for homework. In sum, the therapist offers the suicidal patient hope and a plan, bolstered by a healthy therapeutic relationship characterized by accurate empathy for the patient’s unique experiences, and ongoing positive reinforcement for learning durable psychological skills.

    Asarnow, J. R., Hughes, J. L., Babeva, K. A., & Sugar, C. A. (2017). Cognitive-behavioral family treatment for suicide attempt prevention: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry56, 506-514.

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    Chesin, M. S., Sonmez, C. C., Benjamin-Phillips, C. A., Beller, B., Brodsy, B. S, & Stanley, B. (2015). Preliminary effectiveness of adjunct mimdfulness-based cognitive therapy to prevent suicidal behavior in outpatients who are at elevated suicide risk. Mindfulness6, 1345-1355.

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    Dahlsgaard, K. K., Beck, A. T., & Brown, G. K. (1998). Inadequate response to therapy as a predictor of suicide. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior28, 197-204.

    Ellis, T. E., & Newman, C. F. (1996). Choosing to live: How to defeat suicide through cognitive therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

    Ellis, T. E., & Rufino, K. A. (2015). A psychometric study of the Suicide Cognitions Scale with psychiatric inpatients. Psychological Assessment27, 82-89.

    Ellis, T. E., Rufino, K. A., Allen, J. G., Fowler, J. C., & Jobes, D. A. (2015). Impact of a suicide-specific intervention within inpatient psychiatric care: The Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS). Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior45, 556-566.

    Esposito-Smythers, C., & Spirito, A. (2004). Adolescent substance use and suicidal behavior: A review with implications for treatment research. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research28, 77S-88S.

    Flett, G. L., Hewitt, P. L., & Heisel, M. J. (2014). The destructiveness of perfectionism revisited: Implications for the assessment of suicide risk and the prevention of suicide. Review of General Psychology18, 156-172.

    Ghahramanlou-Holloway, M., Cox, D., & Greene, F. (2012). Post-admission cognitive therapy: A brief intervention for psychiatric inpatients admitted after a suicide attempt. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice19, 116-125.

    Ghahramanlou-Holloway, M., Neely, L. L., & Tucker, J. (2015). Treating risk for self-directed violence in inpatient settings. In C. J. Bryan (Ed.), Cognitive behavioral therapy for preventing suicide attempts: A guide to brief treatments across clinical settings (pp. 91-109). New York: Routledge.

    Green, K. L., & Brown, G. K. (2015). Cognitive therapy for suicide prevention: An illustrated case example. In C. J. Bryan (Ed.), Cognitive behavioral therapy for preventing suicide attempts: A guide to brief treatments across clinical settings (pp. 65-88). New York: Routledge.

    Jobes, D. A. (2006). Managing suicidal risk: A collaborative approach. New York: Guilford.

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    Jobes, D. A., Wong, S. A., Kiernan, A., Conrad, A. K., Drozd, J. F., & Neal-Walden, T. (2005). The collaborative assessment and management of suicidality vs. treatment as usual: A retrospective study with suicidal outpatients. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior35, 483-497.

    Joiner, T. E., & Rudd, M. D. (2000). Intensity and duration of suicidal crises vary as a function of previous suicide attempts and negative life events. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology68, 909-916.

    Joiner, T. E., Steer, R. A., Brown, G., Beck, A. T., Petit, J. W., & Rudd, M. D. (2003). Worst-point suicidal plans: A dimension of suicidality predictive of past suicide attempts and eventual death by suicide. Behaviour Research and Therapy41, 1469-1480.

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    Miranda, R., Gallagher, M., Bauchner, B., Vaysman, R., & Marroquín, B. (2012). Cognitive inflexibility as a prospective predictor of suicidal ideation among young adults with a suicide attempt history. Depression and Anxiety, 29(3), 180–186.

    Miranda, R., Valderrama, J., Tsypes, A., Gadol, E., & Gallagher, M. (2013). Cognitive inflexibility and suicidal ideation: Mediating role of brooding and hopelessness. Psychiatry Research210, 174-181.

    Monti, K. M., Cedereke, M., & Ojehagen, A. (2003). Treatment attendance and suicidal behavior 1 month and 3 months after a suicide attempt: A comparison between two samples. Archives of Suicide Research7, 167-174.

    Motto, J. A., & Bostrom, A. G. (2001). A randomized controlled trial of post-crisis suicide intervention. Psychiatric Services52, 828-833.

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    Published June 25, 2018

  • 06/25/2018 9:31 AM | Anonymous

    Cory Newman, PhD - Center for Cognitive Therapy, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine


    Suicide is a significant public health problem both at home and abroad, and therefore is an area of major importance for mental health intervention. Cognitive-behavioral interventions that specifically target suicidality are showing promise in significantly reducing potentially lethal self-directed violence in patients at high risk.


    When patients present with suicidal ideation, intent, and/or recent self-harming behaviors, the clinician conducts a comprehensive suicide risk assessment (Bryan, 2015; Wenzel, Brown, & Beck, 2009). An assessment includes interviewing patients about their suicidal thoughts, observing their behavior directly, obtaining information from other pertinent sources (e.g., medical records, verbal reports from others, family history), and using psychometrically sound assessment inventories (several of which appear in Box 1).

    Box 1. Inventories to Assess Suicidality
    The Beck Scale for Suicide Ideation (BSSI: Beck, Kovacs, & Weissman, 1979): The BSSI is an interview-based instrument that addresses multiple factors pertinent to a patient’s suicidality. The BSSI includes a section that inquires about the patient’s worst past episode of suicidality. This adds important information, as there is evidence that future risk for suicide is significantly linked to past severity of suicidality, even if the patient’s current risk level is low (Beck, Brown, Steer, Dahlsgaard, & Grisham, 1999; Joiner, Steer, Brown, Beck, Petit, & Rudd 2003).
    The Beck Hopelessness Scale (BHS: Beck, Weissman, Lester, & Trexler, 1974): The BHS is a 20-item “true-false” self-report inventory that assesses patients’ views of their future, with such items as, “I might as well give up because there is nothing I can do about making things better for myself.” Hopelessness has been shown to be a mediator between depression and suicidality, and has predictive validity for deaths by suicide (Brown, Jeglic, Henriques, & Beck, 2006).
    The Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II: Beck, Steer, & Brown, 1996): This 21-item self-report measure of the severity of depression contains items pertinent to hopelessness (#2) and suicidality (#9). When patients fill out the BDI-II at each session, therapists can eyeball these two scoring items for a quick, concise understanding of the patients’ current level of suicide risk, and can ask the patients to discuss their inventory responses as part of the session agenda.
    The Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS: Posner et al., 2011): The C-SSRS is an interview-based scale measuring patients’ past and current suicidal ideation and behavior. It addresses the four constructs of severity, intensity, behavior, and lethality.

    The Suicide Cognitions Scale (SCS: Bryan et al., 2014): The SCS is an 18-item self-report instrument. Patients rate their strength of belief in each item on a 0-5 Likert-type scale. The two main constructs underlying the items are the suicidal schemas of unbearability and unlovability.

    If a patient presenting for treatment has previously engaged in self-directed violence, the clinician inquires about the patient’s level of intent (e.g., impulsive versus planned; communicating the need for help versus wanting to die), degree of lethality of the method used (e.g., taking several pills or superficially cutting one’s wrist, versus trying to hang oneself), presence and extent of actual physical injury, whether or not the suicide attempt was interrupted (and by whom), and situational context and triggers. It is also important to determine if the current suicide attempt was the first time or the latest in a historical pattern, as patients who have a history of multiple suicide attempts are particularly at risk (Joiner & Rudd, 2000).

    It is also advisable to construct a chain analysis that includes the sequence of events precipitating the suicide attempt, the patient’s resultant thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, as well as the consequences (Brown, Wright, Thase, & Beck, 2012). This process assists in providing patients with valuable psycho-education about their vulnerabilities and related targets for intervention. In terms of ongoing treatment, therapists can explain to their patients that they will ask about their suicidal ideation, intentions, and behaviors as a routine part of each session, because they will need to be vigilant for emergent recurrences of increased risk.

    Unlike the more traditional syndromal model that viewed patients’ suicidality as secondary to their psychiatric diagnoses, current cognitive-behavioral approaches directly assess and target the suicidality as a primary issue. Therapists examine the antecedent and consequent contextual influences as well as the patient’s belief systems that interact to initiate and maintain suicidal feelings and behaviors (Clemans, 2015). For example, the therapist may hypothesize that a patient receives negative reinforcement for cutting herself in that she provides herself with a temporary distraction from her emotional pain that she considers much worse. She may also receive some positive reinforcement for her self-harming behaviors when people close to her increase their demonstrations of care and concern. In another case, the therapist posits that the patient’s suicidal ideation and intent are congruent with his stated self-punitive belief “I am a bad person who doesn’t deserve to live.” When other people (including the therapist) give this patient support and positive feedback, he has great difficulty believing it, thus he appears to be unresponsive to help. Exploring such factors contributes greatly to the formulation of a cognitive-behavioral case conceptualization (see Kuyken, Padesky, & Dudley, 2009) that can increase the practitioner’s accurate empathy, and guide the construction of a treatment plan for the suicidal patient.

    Cognitive Vulnerabilities Associated with Suicidality

    A CBT approach to the assessment and treatment of suicidality pays close attention to the cognitive characteristics associated with suicide risk. For example, hopelessness has been found to be a significant factor in differentiating non-suicidal persons from those who are potentially at elevated risk for suicide (Beck, Brown, Berchick, Stewart, & Steer, 1990; Beck, Steer, Beck, & Newman, 1993; Beck, Steer, Kovacs, & Garrison, 1985; Brown, Beck, Steer, & Grisham, 2000; Brown, Jeglic, Henriques, & Beck, 2006; Smith, Alloy, & Abramson, 2006).    

    In addition to general hopelessness, there are specific beliefs that have been found to be related to suicide risk. For example, suicidal patients have a tendency to believe that they are unlovable, that their problems are unsolvable, that their pain is unbearable, and/or that they are a burden to others (Ellis & Rufino, 2015; Joiner et al., 2009; Peak et al., 2015).

    Cognitive rigidity or inflexibility has also been identified as a characteristic in suicidal thinking (Miranda, Gallagher, Bauchner, Vaysman, & Marroquín, 2012; Miranda, Valderrama, Tsypes, Gadol, & Gallagher, 2013). Suicidal persons are prone to evaluating themselves and their lives in all-or-none terms. For example, situational self-reproach becomes blanket self-condemnation, and/or an adverse event seems inexorable and devastating.

    Perfectionism is also a cognitive risk factor for suicide (Flett, Hewitt, & Heisel, 2014; O’Connor, 2007). “Morbid” perfectionism goes way beyond just a stubborn desire to get things right. It entails a patient’s internal demand to have things be “just so,” and to be punitive toward oneself, excessively concerned about others’ negative judgments, and angry at the world if things turn out differently. Within this mindset, the minor setbacks of everyday life become triggers for emotional crises, and larger disappointments become reasons to want to die (e.g., “If I don’t pass the Bar Exam this time, I will kill myself”).


    It should be noted that the term “interventions” does not just mean “techniques,” as interventions are intertwined with and highly dependent upon the quality of the therapeutic relationship and case conceptualization (see Newman, 2015). Similarly, the term “interventions” goes beyond what transpires in the therapist’s office. It also refers to the patient’s homework assignments, in which they practice in everyday life what they learned in their CBT sessions. Homework assignments can also include self-help readings that supplement and are congruent with the treatment (e.g., Choosing to Live: How to Defeat Suicide Through Cognitive Therapy, Ellis & Newman, 1996). Several major areas of intervention are described below.

    Safety Planning – “Safety planning” refers to formal methods for keeping suicidal patients safe between therapy sessions (Stanley & Brown, 2012; Wenzel et al., 2009).  Safety planning entails the implementation of good, standard risk management methods, including identifying, promoting, and utilizing the patients’ interpersonal and intrapersonal resources. The typical components of outpatient risk management include increasing the frequency of sessions, scheduling between-session phone contacts, making arrangements for the patient to spend time in public places around other people (e.g., cafés, bookstores, parks, sporting or community events, malls) and/or with selected others who can provide some measure of oversight (e.g., friends, family, support group cohorts), and doing advance problem-solving to reduce the likelihood of the patient’s being in situations that might increase risk. The risk management methods above involve a strong interpersonal component, in which the patient is prepared to reach out to (and spend time with) others. Patients should have ready access to important contact information, including phone numbers for their practitioners and suicide hot lines. The interpersonal part of the safety plan can also be utilized to enact a lethal means restriction – that is to say that important people in the patient’s life are enlisted to help remove whatever poses a potential danger to the patient. For example, a trusted family member can take possession of the patient’s firearm(s) for safe storage (see Simon, 2007), or a person in the patient’s household can take charge of doling out the patient’s medications in small increments to lower the risk of deliberate overdose. When patients do not wish to give up their instruments of self-harm (e.g., firearms, razors, pills), the risk of a power struggle can be lowered by adopting a therapeutic negotiating style known as motivational interviewing (Miller & Rollnick, 2002), which can be utilized to take steps toward reducing access to lethal means (Britton, Bryan, & Valenstein, 2016).

    The intrapersonal piece in safety planning has to do with the patient learning to spot early warning signs of increasing suicidality and being ready and agreeable to use the full array of self-help coping skills he or she is learning in CBT. The key self-help skills, which can be used at times of acute need as well as throughout a course of treatment and beyond, are described below.

    Building Psychological Self-Help Skills – In order to help patients make therapeutic gains that will be well-maintained for the long term, CBT helps patients develop and practice durable psychological skills. Some of these interventions include, (1) developing hopefulness and reasons for living, (2) rationally responding to suicidogenic beliefs, (3) constructing a compassionate narrative of one’s own life, (4) creating a “hope kit,” (5) improving problem-solving, (6) engaging in activities that bring a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment, and (7) preparing for potential high-risk situations to prevent relapse (see Ellis & Newman, 1996; Wenzel et al., 2009).

    Developing Hopefulness and Reasons for Living – CBT therapists validate their patients’ experiences of subjective emotional pain, but also invite them to consider ways in which this pain may be eased within the scope of an improved life and a more hopeful future. A simple, straightforward technique that can be very enlightening is discussing and writing the pros and cons of dying by suicide versus investing in living (Ellis & Newman, 1996; Jobes, 2006; Brown et al., 2012). This method gives patients overt permission to identify the “advantages” of suicide that they have already been dwelling upon, and to talk about the topic openly with the therapist (see Figure 1). Often there are obvious cognitive biases that are identified in the course of fleshing out the “pros of dying” (e.g., “My family will be better off if I kill myself”), and these beliefs can be subjected to rational responding (see below). Meanwhile, the therapist engages the patient in a process of considering the advantages of investing in life going forward, something that the patient may have been discounting or neglecting. A further application of this technique involves discussing the pros and cons of the patient’s living versus dying for the patient’s loved ones. Doing so often motivates patients to think about the well-being of their family and other important people in their lives as a deterrent to suicide.

    Figure 1. Advantages/Disadvantages Analysis

    Rationally Responding to Suicidogenic Beliefs – Suicidal patients are taught to identify their beliefs that potentially support their suicidal feelings and intentions, and to use cognitive restructuring techniques (see Newman, 2015) in an attempt to modify these dangerous beliefs. Many suicidal patients evince rigid, maladaptive beliefs that are not easy to relinquish. However, therapists try to create “reasonable doubt” in the minds of such patients about their notions (for example) that death is the only “solution” to their problems, or that they are so bad that they “deserve” to die. Rational responding is not the same thing as “thought replacement.” The more apt description is that rational responding plants seeds of hope that can sprout over time with the help of a strong therapeutic relationship. Patients are taught that it is not necessary for them to fully believe their own rational responses – it is progress in itself if they can simply generate more hopeful, more constructive beliefs that can be tested, or if they are willing to partially believe their therapist’s attempts at hopeful reframing. Even tentatively believed rational responses can gain greater acceptance over time, as other interventions take hold.

    Constructing a Compassionate Narrative of One’s Own Life – In order to gain a broader perspective on their lives, to escape the “time trap” of being unduly focused on the pain of the moment, to improve specific autobiographical recall, and to imagine a better future, suicidal patients are encouraged to write a compassionate narrative of their lives. It is best if this technique is done in stages, across sessions, so that it can grow into a detailed, thorough story, and so that it can become a useful, ongoing homework assignment. An additional narrative can be added that describes positive possibilities for the future. For example, the patients can be asked to list three positive and/or interesting things they might experience each year going forward – things that they would miss if they were to die by suicide (see Ellis & Newman, 1996).

    Creating a “Hope Kit” – A hope kit (see Wenzel et al., 2009) is a compilation of positive memorabilia that patients can store in a shoebox, a phone app, or a computer file. Once patients do the work of putting a hope kit together (an excellent homework assignment), they can continue to add to it as new events come up that serve as reminders about what is valuable in their lives. The contents of hope kits typically include such items as photos of happier times and events, birthday and greeting cards that the patient has received over the years, personal archives that represent success experiences (e.g., awards, certificates, congratulatory notes), and mementos from favored activities (e.g., trips, clubs, organizations). Additionally, patients can add emotionally significant and meaningful things they have produced, such as artwork, crafts, and writings, including the best examples of previous therapy homework assignments. Consistent with the information used in a safety plan, the hope kit can also include a list of important people in the patient’s life along with their contact information. The main purpose of the hope kit is to produce evidence that suicidal patients do indeed have important attachments to life, and to remind them why their existence is worth preserving and nurturing.

    Improving Problem-Solving – Suicidal patients sometimes feel overwhelmed by life’s problems (and/or by their perceptions of life’s problems) and see no way out other than escaping from life itself. This is where therapists need to teach their patients basic problem-solving skills, including describing problems objectively, brainstorming solutions, weighing pros and cons, implementing chosen methods, evaluating the outcomes, and beginning the process with another problem (Nezu, Nezu, & D’Zurilla,2013). Even when patients have bona fide crises and hardships, therapists offer empathy along with a lesson in the benefits of doing “damage control” to begin to turn things around for the better. There is evidence that the subset of problem-solving known as social problem-solving  (also called emotion-centered problem solving, see Nezu & Nezu, in press) – which pertains to interpersonal and emotional self-regulation skills – is particularly germane to suicidality in that deficiencies in this area are a risk factor (Nezu, Nezu, Stern, Greenfield, Diaz, & Hayes, 2017; Woods, 2018). Such findings suggest that treatment should teach patients to view their negative emotions and interpersonal concerns as problems that can be addressed constructively and with self-efficacy, rather than as indicators of uncontrollable, intolerable misery.

    Engaging in Activities for Accomplishment and Enjoyment – Therapists help their patients brainstorm a list of activities in which to engage, particularly those that have the potential to be enjoyable and/or to provide a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes an excellent source of ideas for this list comes from a review of the things that the patient used to do and/or has been meaning to do. Deeply depressed patients are prone to minimizing the meaning or importance of such activities, and often assume that taking part in the activities will fail to make them feel better anyway. Practitioners of CBT encourage patients to increase their level of activity step by step as a therapeutic experiment to test hypotheses about the potential impact. When patients begin to do positive, constructive things, it often improves their morale, provides some hope, and helps in the process of connecting with others and/or solving problems. All of this serves as a counterweight to suicidality.

    Preparing for Potential High-Risk Situations to Prevent Relapse – The skills described above require regular practice to minimize the risk of relapsing into suicidal crises. This involves such methods as reviewing and documenting the patient’s self-help strategies (e.g., drawing from earlier homework assignments), updating the safety plan to incorporate new material (e.g., new activities, additional people to contact), and organizing and assembling “coping cards” that contain the best of the patient’s rational responses to the re-emergence of old stress reactions. Coping cards can be index cards, or memos on the patient’s phone or other digital device. A particularly powerful relapse prevention method is the guided imagery exercise described by Green and Brown (2015), in which the therapist instructs the patient to imagine anticipated situations in the future that could have the potential to trigger suicidal ideation and intentions. Patients then have to provide a detailed account of the coping methods they would use in such situations. This method serves as an important measure of the patient’s preparedness for the maintenance and ending phases of a treatment trial.

    Published June 25, 2018

  • 02/03/2018 9:43 AM | Anonymous

    Lynne Siqueland, PhD - Children's and Adult Center for OCD and Anxiety

    It is useful to consider three levels of family involvement when conceptualizing and planning treatment of child and adolescent anxiety: education, coaching parents and other family members and caregivers, and improving family relationships.  This conceptualization has been useful for assessment of needs and clinical decision making by articulating levels of intervention for the treatment of childhood anxiety and related disorders.  These three levels of intervention have also been suggested by other clinical investigators who have written about family factors relevant in child anxiety (Rapee, 2012).  In what follows, straight forward language is offered that can be used by clinicians and other providers when speaking directly to parents and children in practice.  

    Psychoeducation about anxiety

    Cognitive-behavioral therapists overall rely on psychoeducation as an essential part of their work.  The first level of intervention then is psychoeducation about the nature of anxiety in children and an understanding of what ameliorates or exacerbates anxiety. This is the starting point and often essential for all families. It is useful to teach parents about what anxiety looks like in children and teens in terms of body reactions, thoughts and behavior. Many children and parents are not aware of the links between physical symptoms and anxiety. It helps for them to notice patterns.  If, for example, a child is complaining of stomach pain each school day morning but does not have difficulty or pain during the school day or after school in the afternoons or weekends then there is likely a link to anxiety or separation fears rather than stomach condition alone.  

    Also clarifying for parents that the discomfort or pain is real but will often be relieved by managing anxiety rather than treating the stomach or other regions of the gastrointestinal system with medications can be helpful.  Or addressing anxiety first can help clarify physical symptoms that remain after anxiety is lessened.  Headaches and stomachaches are the most common physical symptoms reported along with vague physical complaints.  Finally sleep issues are common in anxiety, especially around falling asleep.  If sleep issues are caused primarily by anxiety then treating worry or separation anxiety in the daylight hours is often essential before there can be success in sleep difficulties.  Another important psychoeducation issue is the reverse.  Too little or disrupted sleep can cause anxiety and treating sleep issues may significantly reduce anxiety without formal treatment of the anxiety.  Indeed psychoeducation and information alone has been helpful in child anxiety (Ginsburg, Drake, Tien et al., 2015).  For some children and families education may be all they need to address concerns.

    Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be especially helpful in teaching youth and parents to recognize that there are thinking patterns that arise when anxiety is present, including beliefs that anxiety is problematic or dangerous.  The first reaction the child shows is the anxiety reaction – it is automatic and often inaccurate or “false alarm”.  For children and teens, that anxiety reaction is either a “freak-out” as kids often call it, or a “No” or refusal to do something or a combination of both.  It helps parents and other caregivers to recognize this first response as the anxiety reaction and not how their child thinks or feels when not anxious. While it is clear that the child may not be able to help the first reaction, the child is expected to learn, and the parents are to help their child cultivate, another more reasonable response.  It helps everyone to not be surprised or disappointed or to panic if the anxiety reaction occurs.  Instead they can respond by calmly saying, “We thought this might happen and we have a plan.”

    Finally the major issue for parents to understand is how avoidance maintains anxiety.  Many parents understand this at higher levels of avoidance but not in the subtler versions of day-to-day living.  It really helps for parents to understand that it is true that the anxiety goes down in the short run if they take over for a child (contact a friend or teachers for them) or allow a child to not attend a planned activity or event. However, avoidance maintains and exacerbates the anxiety in the long-run. Both prevention and intervention trials have targeted working with parents alone and providing educational information with good outcomes (e.g. Ginsburg, Drake, Tein, et al., 2015); Thirlwall, Cooper, Karalus,, Voysey, Willetts & Creswell, 2013).

    Coaching Caregivers to Coach Children

    The second component of coaching children during anxious moments comes into the clinical plan and is usually needed to some extent for all child and teen clients and their parents.  If parents have a way to help their children rather than the past options of trying to force their child, getting angry, or letting their child avoid, then parents feel that they can do something.  Also kids feel empowered because they also have something useful and different to do in the moment so often they are more willing to approach situations.  The therapist reminds parents and child clients that humans forget or do not use their therapeutic strategies at first and especially in times of stress if the strategies have not been sufficiently practiced.  It takes repeated practice for new skills to become available in times of stress. So it is important to review tools non-reactively and before they are needed, including after stressful events in anticipation of the next time.  Overall, therapists want both kids and parents to know that anxiety disorders are no-fault conditions.  Everyone is doing the best they can but in treatment parents and kids are asked to do some things differently based on what mental health professionals know about the nature of anxiety.  

    It is important to educate children, teens and their parents about the nature of exposures to feared situations and symptoms. There is no force involved but instead the therapist, child and parent are work together to make a plan to face fears step by step.  Children and teens should be told ahead of time what is going to happen, and informed that parents are going to do things differently.  Everyone in the family is told that it can be hard at first and uncomfortable but gets better with practice and time. One essential fact to learn about anxiety is that it often goes away on its own with doing next to nothing. The reaction to the anxiety is the problem more than the anxiety itself.  Parents and kids see that you often do not have to use all cognitive or behavioral approaches for anxiety to change if you just expose yourself to the feared situation and pay attention to the actual objective outcome.  The anxiety goes up and down on its own.  One of the pieces of coaching advice is that “this bad feeling will pass.”  Anxiety does not mean you have to do something.  This fact alleviates pressure on children, teens and their families alike.

    Parents and their children have a role in CBT treatment.  Parents’ role in exposures is making time for exposures at home, taking kids places to do them and setting up plans like playdates.  In this new role, parents are limiting reassurance, working to stay calm, and encouraging a different way of asking for help.  Most importantly, therapists help parents pay a lot of attention to kids’ healthy coping responses and a lot less to anxiety. They can help their children use the CBT strategies or just simply help their children continue or return to what they would be doing if anxiety were not getting in the way.  Psychologist Deborah Ledley, Ph.D. describes the child’s primary instruction as “just do it”-  try the exposures planned, use your strategies and do not get too mad at your parents for taking you to treatment or asking you to do homework.

    Many parents, with the psychoeducation and coaching, can do a great job and rather quickly take over the role as an encouraging side-by-side coach or background coach for their children. However some parents and families have difficulty doing this.  If one or both parents have significant anxiety, and especially if the anxiety is untreated, they may be modeling an anxious response in words or other behaviors or may not be able to complete exposures.   Many parents with anxiety who have formally received treatment or found their own ways to challenge themselves despite anxiety can be excellent coaches.  

    Parents very appropriately model for their kids coping by speaking out loud in the moment how they cope or describe how they coped in past situations.  A parent might say, “I was pretty nervous to talk to someone at work about something I did not like because I did not want them to be mad at me or I did not want to look stupid.  So I thought about how I wanted to say it and looked for a good time to talk to my coworker.  It was hard because they were a little upset when I talked to them, but later at lunch we were able to talk again comfortably.”  Often parents who cannot manage their own anxiety particularly well can still provide support and coaching for their child.

    Other parents with or without anxiety might have strongly held beliefs either about parenting or anxiety that make it hard for them to feel that it is ok or safe for their child to be anxious.  Oftentimes a session or two with parents alone focused on hearing their concerns with patience and understanding can lead these to be evaluated and challenged by attending to their child’s actual experience in treatment.   It can be really enlightening for a parent to see a child either do an exposure with the therapist or come back from an exposure and report to the parent what they did.  For example, parents will be surprised sometimes to hear the child did an exposure such as asking for a book in a bookstore or talking to another child in the waiting room.  Seeing their child actually competent in doing these tasks helps challenge the belief about the child or anxiety.  Also if there is one parent who is less anxious, that parent can do the exposures alone with the child first to help the child feel confident and competent and then transition to practicing with the more anxious parent.

    Family accommodation has been well documented to directly relate to severity of OCD and anxiety symptoms.  Improvements in limiting family accommodation lead to improvements in OCD and anxiety symptoms.  Whereas in OCD family accommodation is often related to involvement in rituals, in the other anxiety disorders accommodation can take forms such as allowing avoidance or doing things for the child rather than promoting independence (Liebowitz, Scharfstein & Jones,2014; Merlo, Lehmkuhl, Geffken & Storch, 2009).

    Improving Relationships with Caregivers

    The third level of intervention is work on improving family relationships including improving communication, lowering conflict and promoting autonomy and independence.  In some families, the level of conflict or anger or difficulties in communication can really limit the ability to do the CBT treatment.  Therapists can decide if they have the interest in and experience working with families on these issues prior to or concurrent with CBT treatment.   Otherwise families can be referred to individual, couples or family treatment with another provider.  Both research studies and clinical experience show that many children and teens can make major improvements in CBT treatment even if their family does not change so it is important to keep offering the individual treatment option even in the family is not willing to engage in family work. The main difficulties that can arise when just an individual treatment model is used include therapy-interfering behaviors that take the form of parent accommodation, avoidance or parental difficulty helping children in anxious moments.

    However other therapists can decide to take on the often rewarding and crucial work in some cases to meet with different family members to improve communication, lower conflict, increase closeness and attachment. Especially teens, but also younger children, are amazing at telling their parents how they feel when their parent reacts in a certain way.  They might be able to tell parents how they feel when their parent gets anxious, or how it feels when the parent is mad when the child cannot help their anxiety reaction.  For some families individuation and contrasting beliefs or choices are compromised for fear of conflict, hurting others feelings, or guilt.  This family work is best done carefully and thoughtfully and working with child, parents / caregivers or dyads separately to plan for different kinds of conversations.  Therapists can evaluate for kids and teens whether it is safe or useful for a child or teen to express their feelings and whether or not the parent is willing to listen and can be helped to hear.  Families can be helped to promote competence and independence in their children and to “enact” different conversations and interactions (Bogels & Siqueland, 2016). Parents also need a safe place to discuss any differences in parenting philosophy or beliefs about anxiety that are limiting their ability to help their child.  Therapists can often help parents to find a compromise approach or to respectfully tag team using different strengths and contributions of each parent.  This third level of intervention is not needed for all families.

    Bogels, S & Siqueland, L. (2006). Family cognitive behavioral therapy for children and adolescents with clinical anxiety disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 45(2) 134-141.

    Ginsburg, GS, Drake KL, Tein JY Teetsle, R and Riddle, M.  (2015).  Preventing Onset of Anxiety Disorders in Offspring of Anxious Parents: A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Family-Based Intervention. American Journal of Psychiatry, 172:1207-1213.

    Lebowitz  ERScharfstein LA and Jones. J. (2014). Comparing family accommodation in pediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorders, and nonanxious children, Depression and Anxiety, 31(12):1018-25.

    Manassis K., Lee, T.C., Bennett, K., et al (2014). Types of parental involvement in CBT with anxious youth: a preliminary meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82 (6):11631172.

    Merlo, L, Lehmkuhl, HD, Geffken, GR & Storch, E A (2009). Decreased family accommodation associated with improved therapy outcome in pediatric obsessive–compulsive disorder, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 77(2), 355-360.

    Rapee, RM  (2012). Family Factors in the Development and Management of Anxiety Disorders, Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, Volume 15 (1) pp 69-80

    Thirlwall,  K, Cooper, PJKaralus, JVoysey, MWilletts LCreswell C  (2013).  Treatment of child anxiety disorders via guided parent-delivered cognitive-behavioural therapy: randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Psychiatry. Dec; 203(6): 436-44.

    Note: This article is based on the PBTA workshop entitled, “Family involvement in the treatment of children with anxiety disorders,” that was given by Lynne Siqueland, Ph.D. and Deborah Ledley, Ph.D.

    Published February 3, 2018

  • 09/02/2017 9:45 AM | Anonymous

    Joanna Kaye, MS - Department of Psychology, Drexel University

    A large body of literature has determined that exposure-based cognitive-behavioral therapies are highly effective for a variety of anxiety disorders (Hofmann, Asnaani, Vonk, Sawyer, & Fang, 2012; Newby, McKinnon, Kuyken, Gilbody, & Dalgleish, 2015). Exposure therapies (ET) refer to a group of treatments that use exposure techniques to help individuals confront feared stimuli in a prolonged, repeated, and intense manner (Richard & Lauterbach, 2007). The various forms of exposure techniques include in vivo exposure (i.e., directly confronting feared stimuli in the real world), simulated exposure (i.e., confronting feared stimuli through role-play or “simulated” real-world scenarios), imaginal exposure (i.e., recounting anxiety-provoking thoughts or images verbally or in the form of written narratives), and interoceptive exposure (i.e., intentionally invoking feared body sensations). 

    Meta-analyses have determined that exposure-based cognitive-behavioral treatments (CBTs) lead to symptom improvement with large effect sizes in the treatment of panic disorder, specific phobia, social anxiety disorder (SAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD; Bandelow et al., 2015; Deacon & Abramowitz, 2004; Mayo-Wilson et al., 2014; Olatunji, Davis, Powers, & Smits, 2013; Olatunji et al., 2010). Additionally, exposure to feared stimuli is widely considered an empirically-supported principle of behavior change for anxiety disorders (Lohr, Lilienfeld, & Rosen, 2012). Exposure techniques are the cornerstone of CBT protocols for anxiety disorders, so much so that many debate if other treatment components add any incremental benefit above exposure alone (Barrera, Szafranski, Ratcliff, Garnaat, & Norton, 2016; Olatunji et al., 2010). 

    Given this evidence, why aren’t all mental health clinicians using exposure?

    Despite the demonstrated efficacy of ET, many therapists do not use exposure therapy or use it only rarely (Becker, Zayfert, & Anderson, 2004; Freiheit, Vye, Swan, & Cady, 2004; Hipol & Deacon, 2013; Whiteside, Deacon, Benito, & Stewart, 2016). A key factor is lack of adequate dissemination of ET training. However, even when therapists indicate that they endorse a cognitive-behavioral orientation and have been trained in the use of exposure therapy methods, many report they do not utilize these methods or use them only infrequently. Given the established efficacy of exposure treatments for anxiety disorders, it is critical that we expand efforts to understand how to increase implementation of exposure techniques. 

    Another concerning factor related to the implementation of ET is the research that has found that even among therapists who report using exposure techniques, many do not deliver them in an optimal manner. Therapists in community settings appear to utilize client-directed exposure substantially more than therapist-directed exposure (Freiheit et al., 2004; Hipol & Deacon, 2013), which is concerning given indications that self-directed exposure is less effective (Abramowitz, 1996). Additionally, although findings suggest that effective exposure treatment requires its delivery in a prolonged, repeated, and intense manner, many therapists also endorse promoting arousal reduction techniques (e.g., deep breathing exercises) during exposure, despite theoretical and empirical contraindications for doing so (Blakey & Abramowitz, 2016; Schmidt et al., 2000). For example, Deacon and colleagues (2013) found that many therapists delivering interoceptive exposure for panic disorder utilized controlled breathing strategies during delivery, which have shown no benefit in treatment and stand in direct contrast to the prolonged and intense delivery suggested by validated treatment manuals. 

    Given the efficacy of exposure therapies for anxiety disorders, it is critical to examine the reasons behind underutilization and improper use of these methods. Many factors are likely to impede dissemination and effective implementation, including lack of adequate training, persistent beliefs that empirically-supported treatments conducted in research settings are irrelevant to clinical practice, therapists’ overemphasis on clinical intuition, and therapist concerns about exposure therapy (Deacon & Farrell, 2013). 

    What do we do about this?

    Research must determine how to improve the implementation of exposure therapy through clinical training. Further investigation onto the barriers to dissemination and effective training will provide guidance about how to achieve these goals. Mental health clinicians clearly desire more training in exposure therapy. However, the question remains: which training method will prepare clinicians to deliver the most effective exposure therapy?

    Abramowitz, J. S. (1996). Variants of exposure and response prevention in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder: A meta-analysis. Behavior Therapy, 27(4), 583-600.

    Bandelow, B., Reitt, M., Röver, C., Michaelis, S., Görlich, Y., & Wedekind, D. (2015). Efficacy of treatments for anxiety disorders: a meta-analysis. International Clinical Psychopharmacology, 30(4), 183-192.

    Barrera, T. L., Szafranski, D. D., Ratcliff, C. G., Garnaat, S. L., & Norton, P. J. (2016). An Experimental comparison of techniques: Cognitive defusion, cognitive restructuring, and in-vivo exposure for social anxiety. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 44(2), 249-254.

    Becker, C. B., Zayfert, C., & Anderson, E. (2004). A survey of psychologists’ attitudes towards and utilization of exposure therapy for PTSD. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 42(3), 277-292.

    Blakey, S. M., & Abramowitz, J. S. (2016). The effects of safety behaviors during exposure therapy for anxiety: Critical analysis from an inhibitory learning perspective. Clinical Psychology Review, 49, 1-15.

    Deacon, B. J., & Abramowitz, J. S. (2004). Cognitive and behavioral treatments for anxiety disorders: A review of meta‐analytic findings. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 60(4), 429-441.

    Deacon, B. J., & Farrell, N. R. (2013). Therapist barriers to the dissemination of exposure therapy. In Handbook of treating variants and complications in anxiety disorders (pp. 363-373). New York: Springer.

    Deacon, B. J., Farrell, N. R., Kemp, J. J., Dixon, L. J., Sy, J. T., Zhang, A. R., & McGrath, P. B. (2013). Assessing therapist reservations about exposure therapy for anxiety disorders: The Therapist Beliefs about Exposure Scale. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 27(8), 772-780.

    Freiheit, S. R., Vye, C., Swan, R., & Cady, M. (2004). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety: Is dissemination working?. The Behavior Therapist, 27(2), 25-32.

    Hipol, L. J., & Deacon, B. J. (2013). Dissemination of evidence-based practices for anxiety disorders in Wyoming A survey of practicing psychotherapists. Behavior Modification, 37(2), 170-188.

    Hofmann, S. G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I. J., Sawyer, A. T., & Fang, A. (2012). The efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy: a review of meta-analyses. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 36(5), 427-440.

    Lohr, J. M., Lilienfeld, S. O., & Rosen, G. M. (2012). Anxiety and its treatment: Promoting science-based practice. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 26(7), 719-727.

    Mayo-Wilson, E., Dias, S., Mavranezouli, I., Kew, K., Clark, D. M., Ades, A. E., & Pilling, S. (2014). Psychological and pharmacological interventions for social anxiety disorder in adults: a systematic review and network meta-analysis. The Lancet Psychiatry, 1(5), 368-376.

    Newby, J. M., McKinnon, A., Kuyken, W., Gilbody, S., & Dalgleish, T. (2015). Systematic review and meta-analysis of transdiagnostic psychological treatments for anxiety and depressive disorders in adulthood. Clinical Psychology Review, 40, 91-110.

    Olatunji, B. O., Cisler, J. M., & Deacon, B. J. (2010). Efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders: a review of meta-analytic findings. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 33(3), 557-577.

    Olatunji, B. O., Davis, M. L., Powers, M. B., & Smits, J. A. (2013). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder: a meta-analysis of treatment outcome and moderators. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 47(1), 33-41.

    Richard, D. C. S. & Lauterbach, D. L. (2007). Handbook of exposure therapies. Boston: Academic Press.

    Schmidt, N. B., Woolaway-Bickel, K., Trakowski, J., Santiago, H., Storey, J., Koselka, M., & Cook, J. (2000). Dismantling cognitive–behavioral treatment for panic disorder: Questioning the utility of breathing retraining. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68(3), 417-424.

    Whiteside, S. P., Deacon, B. J., Benito, K., & Stewart, E. (2016). Factors associated with practitioners’ use of exposure therapy for childhood anxiety disorders. Journal of Anxiety Disorders40, 29-36.

    Published September 2, 2017

  • 08/30/2016 9:47 AM | Anonymous

    Ronald S. Kaiser, PhD, ABPP - Jefferson Headache Center, Thomas Jefferson University

    The American Migraine Prevalence Study (Lipton et al, 2007), the largest study of migraine in America ever conducted, found that 12% of Americans have migraine, and 90% of them can’t function normally on days when they have migraine.  30% of them are bedridden on those days.  Obviously, that level of impairment impacts quality of life as well as mood.

    Working with migraine headache patients can be challenging, but it can also be one of the most rewarding therapeutic experiences that can occur for both the patient and the therapist – so long as each pursues the therapeutic process with the proper mindset.  Because of the size of the migraine population, there has been considerable research to provide guidance for understanding and treating migraine patients.

    Reviews of the literature (Kaiser et al, 2015, Kaiser et al, 2016), as well as clinical experience, provide principles for psychotherapeutic effectiveness in treating migraine patients.

    1. In almost every case, migraine is a neuro-biochemical disorder that may include pain, nausea, light and sound sensitivity, and fatigue. Various brain chemicals have been implicated in the migraine process including serotonin, norepinephrine, and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP).  Unlike many other types of pain patients whose pain is caused by structural damage (e.g., herniated or bulging discs, diabetic neuropathy), improved control over physiology can lead to lasting changes. Thus, migraine patients don’t have to assume that “living with the pain” is as good as it can get.  Some individuals are currently disabled or otherwise impaired by their head pain, but it is important to be mindful of the fact that MIGRAINE PATIENTS CAN GET BETTER.
    2. The term, migraine, is not a description of the degree of impairment that the patient may be experiencing. Since most people have had headaches, some of which have been accurately or inaccurately described as migraine, there is a good chance that the therapist working with the migraine patient has had headaches him/herself.  It is important to not assume that the patient’s experience is the same as that of the therapist.  Listen to the patient’s description of pain and also ask about associated symptoms.
    3. Appropriately diagnosed migraine is neither a terminal illness nor the type of disorder that deteriorates organs, but it does negatively impact upon quality of life. Migraine can reduce or severely limit productivity at school or work, curtail social involvements, affect family relationships, and cause the patient to feel physically and emotionally drained even when overtly functioning in a successful manner.
    4. Migraine patients don’t wear badges such as casts, walkers, etc. Because they look “normal”, many have had to deal with the stigma of being seen as having weakness, hypochondriasis, drug-seeking behaviors, and secondary gains (Young et al, 2013).  To cope with being stigmatized, patients may develop counterproductive coping strategies.  McCrea et al (2013) found that such patients developed a dislike for interacting with others, while Waugh et al (2014) found that internalized stigma had a negative relationship with self-esteem and pain self-efficacy – even when controlling for depression.  In many cases, stigmatizers have included medical and mental health professionals as well as family members, friends, and coworkers.  Until proven otherwise, the patient may not trust your ability to be empathic.
    5. Without proper guidance, many headache patients develop their own coping strategies – with differing degrees of appropriateness and effectiveness.   In some cases, they may overuse medications for pain in order to keep functioning.  Some patients withdraw from normal activities for fear of aggravating their headaches, and they become physically and emotionally deconditioned and depressed.  Others have mastered the art of being a migraine patient – treating the migraine as part of life, but not part of the definition of self.

    For the therapist, there can be no better patient than a motivated headache patient.  Regardless of the patient’s current means of coping, there usually is a history of success that can be called upon.  There is the probability of getting better, and there usually are some bad habits that can be changed to reduce the centrality of the headache.  When migraine patients feel they are being understood, they typically become willing allies in their treatment.  

    If the patient is getting appropriate medical treatment, the therapist is part of a treatment team.  Long before integrated care became a buzzword, cooperation between physicians and mental health professionals was taking place in the field of headache medicine

    There have been many psychological approaches to migraine treatment. Although some appear to be promising, such as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), mindfulness, neurofeedback, and yoga, there are four approaches that have attained an “A” rating from the U.S. Headache Consortium:  relaxation training; thermal biofeedback plus relaxation training; EMG biofeedback; and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) (Silberstein, 2000).

    Because of its focus upon the thinking process as an agent of change, CBT is particularly well-suited to working with headache patients whose typically good cognitive functioning enables them to be active participants in their treatment plans (Kaiser & Weatherby, 2009).  In addition, while both anxiety and depression significantly affect headache-related quality of life (HRQoL), catastrophizing has been found to be an independent and greater predictor of HRQol – as it intensifies the negative aspect of pain and exaggerates helplessness (Holroyd et al, 2007). Of course, a major focus of CBT is the reduction of catastrophic thinking.

    The positive focus utilized in working with migraine patients has led to the widespread incorporation of positive psychology techniques in the treatment process.  Goal-Achieving Psychotherapy (GAP), a unique offshoot of CBT and positive psychology, was developed, based upon strategies that have been successfully implemented to promote positive behavior change at the Jefferson Headache Center in Philadelphia (Kaiser, 2012).

    Certain principles have emerged in our work that can be helpful in guiding the mental health professional in working with migraine patients.

    1. Any patient with chronic and/or debilitating migraine needs to be under the care of a knowledgeable and supportive physician who has done an appropriate evaluation to determine whether we are dealing with a primary migraine disorder or whether the patient’s pain is secondary to a medical condition that has to be addressed differently.
    2. As with any therapy patient, a comprehensive history should be taken to determine whether, instead of dealing with a primarily medical disorder, we are dealing with a symptom of a complicated psychological issue that requires special attention - such as past trauma or severe psychopathology such as a delusional disorder or dissociation.
    3. Because migraine patients often have a history of being misunderstood, marginalized, and stigmatized, therapeutic empathy is particularly important in working with this population.
    4. Migraine-oriented treatment needs to be positive, forward looking, and active. Homework assignments provide a system for measuring progress.
    5. While CBT is an effective treatment modality, it is important to not just address negative thoughts and irrational statements, but also to quickly get the patient into a positive mindset by addressing what can go right.
    6. Research is quite clear in reflecting the fact that positive change and progress in three main areas  - health and fitness, intellectual functioning, and social functioning - is associated with achievement and happiness (Achor, 2010). Working on improving one’s body, mind, and character is incompatible with spending an inordinate amount of time focusing upon one’s pain.  Goals for improvement need to be realistic and individually designed to maximize chances for success.
    7. Incorporating techniques such as biofeedback, meditation, and yoga can aid the patient in gaining a sense of control over seemingly involuntary aspects of physiology.  Techniques that can help regulate physiology may have the added side-effect of helping migraine patients reduce or wean from their medications over time.
    8. Speaking of medications, it is important for the therapist working with migraine patients to be aware of the range of effective preventive and abortive medications that utilized to treat migraine as well as being knowledgeable of guidelines for their use.  Conversely, it important to recognize which medications should not be used. Because we are not trying to promote the notion of indefinitely living with pain, headache physicians discourage excessive use of pain medications, especially opioids.  Even the daily use of over-the-counter analgesics can cause changes in physiology that interfere with the potential for effective headache control.
    9. It is not accidental that a physical and socially bonding activity has evolved as a centerpiece of the migraine awareness movement.  Now taking place in several cities, Miles for Migrainerun/walk events enable migraine patients, family members, health care professionals, and other supporters to live the message that migraine needs to be confronted proactively rather than reacted to in a passive manner. It is part of good mental health treatment for the therapist to encourage patients to participate in such physical activities at a level consistent with their abilities.  In addition, monies raised from Miles for Migraine events support research and public awareness of migraine – enabling patients and their supporter to be actively involved in reducing the stigma of migraine and ultimately achieving control over the disease.

    Despite all the progress that has been made, migraine is a stubborn disorder that does not always respond to appropriate medical treatment.  Treating migraine is a process.  Neither the patient nor the therapist can expect it to follow the type of predictable course that people have learned to expect from a bout with the flu or the recovery following a surgical procedure.  Patience is required, and sometimes it is required for a pretty long time.  Being active, however, reduces the centrality of the migraine in the patient’s life. Progress in making positive changes that affect body, mind, and character provide the evidence that change can occur – as can the recognition that, once the bad stuff has been ruled out, we are working on a potentially solvable problem.  The therapist’s role includes being a cheerleader for change because, indeed, MIGRAINE PATIENTS CAN GET BETTER.

    Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage. New York: Crown.

    Holroyd, K., Drew, J., Cottrell, C., Romanek, K., & Heh, V. (2007). Impaired functioning and quality of life in severe migraine: The role of catastrophizing and associated symptoms. Cephalalgia, 27(10), 1156-65.

    Kaiser, R. (2012). Goal-achieving psychotherapy.  Retrieved from

    Kaiser, R., Kurzyna, A., & Mooreville, M. (in press). Psychological factors and headache. Medlink Neurology.

    Kaiser, R., Mooreville, M., & Kannan, K. (2015) Psychological interventions for the management of chronic pain: A review of current evidence. Current Pain and Headache Reports, 9, 43. doi: 10.107/s11916-015-0517-9.

    Kaiser R, & Weatherby S. (2009). Psychology in headache management. In: Kernick D, Goadsby PJ (eds). Headache: A practical manual. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 248-251.

    Lipton,R., Stewart, W., Diamond, S., Diamond,M., & Reed, M.  (2001). Prevalence and burden of migraine in the United States: Data from the American migraine study II. Headache61, 646-657.

    McCrea, S, Kaiser, R., & Young, W. (2014) The relationship between personality factors and perceptions of stigma in chronic and episodic migraine patients. Headache, 54, :59.

    Silberstein, S. (2000) Practice parameter: Evidence-based guidelines for migraine headache (an evidenced-based review): Report of the quality standards subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology, 55(6), 754-762.

    Waugh, O., Byrne, D., & Nicholas, M. (2014). Internalized stigma in people living with chronic pain. The Journal of Pain, 15(5), 1-10.

    Young, W., Park, J., Tian, I., & Kempner, J. (2013). The stigma of migraine. Plos One. Retrieved from

    Published August 30, 2016

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