Cognitive Therapy and Exposure Therapy for Hypochondriasis (Health Anxiety): A 3-Year Naturalistic Follow-Up

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Abstract

Objective: Cognitive–behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in treating hypochondriasis. However, there are doubts regarding the long-term effectiveness of CBT for hypochondriasis, in particular for follow-up periods longer than 1 year. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the long-term effectiveness of cognitive therapy (CT) and exposure therapy (ET) for the treatment of hypochondriasis. Method: Seventy-five patients with a diagnosis of hypochondriasis who were previously treated with CT or ET were contacted 3 years after treatment. Fifty (67%) patients participated and were interviewed by an independent and blinded diagnostician using standardized interviews. Results: We found further improvements after therapy in primary outcome measures (d = .37), general functioning (d = .38), and reduced doctor visits (d = .30) during the naturalistic follow-up period. At the 3-year follow-up, 72% of the patients no longer fulfilled the diagnosis of hypochondriasis. Based on the main outcome measure, we found response rates of 76% and remission rates of 68%. At follow-up, only 4% of patients were taking antidepressant medication. Additional psychological treatment was utilized by 18% of the patients during the follow-up period (only 8% because of health anxiety). We found no overall differences between CT and ET. Only a trend for a greater deterioration rate in CT (13%) in comparison to ET (0%) was found. Conclusions: Our results suggest that ⅔ of the patients with hypochondriasis were remitted in the long term. Thus, remission rates after CBT were twice as high as in untreated samples.

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