Does the Form or the Amount of Exposure Make a Difference in the Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Treatment of Social Phobia?

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Exposure is considered to be an essential ingredient of cognitive-behavioral therapy treatment of social phobia and of most anxiety disorders. To assess the impact of the amount of exposure on outcome, 30 social phobic patients were randomly allocated to 1 of 2 group treatments of 8 weekly sessions: Self-Focused Exposure Therapy which is based essentially on prolonged exposure to public speaking combined with positive feedback or a more standard cognitive and behavioral method encompassing psychoeducation, cognitive work, working through exposure hierarchies of feared situations for exposure within and outside the group. The results show that the 2 methods led to significant and equivalent symptomatic improvements which were maintained at 1-year follow-up. There was a more rapid and initially more pronounced decrease in negative cognitions with the Self-Focused Exposure Therapy, which included no formal cognitive work, than with the more standard approach in which approximately a third of the content was cognitive. In contrast, decrease in social avoidance was more persistent with standard cognitive-behavior therapy which involved less exposure. The results indicate that positive cognitive change can be achieved more rapidly with non cognitive methods while avoidance decreases more reliably with a standard approach rather than an approach with an exclusive focus on exposure.

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