Individually tailored internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy for anxiety disorders

University dissertation from Linköping : Linköping University Electronic Press

Abstract: Fear is an innate emotion and an adaptive response to provide protection from potential harm. When fear is excessive and out of proportion in relation to the confronted situation, it can lead to the development of an anxiety disorder. Many individuals feel anxious at some point, but not all experience clinical anxiety or meet the diagnostic criteria of an anxiety disorder. Still, anxiety disorders are the most prevalent form of psychiatric disorder in the general population. More often than not people suffering from one anxiety disorder also present other psychiatric conditions. As of today, cognitive and behavioural treatments have been tested and found to positively affect anxiety disorders, making them the treatment of choice. Nevertheless, many patients do not seek or receive adequate treatment.One common critique of the research trials from which the recommendations for treatments stem is the use of a single protocol targeting only one diagnosis. This is because many people suffer from comorbidities. Another problem connected to the recommendation that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) should be the treatment of choice for anxiety disorders is the lack of therapists with adequate training. One possible way of dealing both with the shortcoming of therapists and making CBT more accessible is the use of the Internet. Internet-based CBT (ICBT) has been tested in numerous trials during the last 15 years, showing positive outcomes for a large variety of disorders. Many ICBT trials also make use of a single protocol. Another way of dealing with comorbidities might be to tailor the treatment to let characteristics and preferences of the patient guide the design of the protocol. Little is known about possible effects of tailoring the ICBT, the effects of therapeutic relationships in ICBT, and the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of these treatments. This thesis is based on three studies on two separate randomized controlled trials (RCTs) using the same set of modules accessible for the tailored protocol.Study I was an RCT investigating treatment effects up to two-year after completion, showing favourable outcomes of the treatment in a self-recruited sample at all measure points. Study II was a secondary analysis exploring possible relations between working alliance and treatment outcome for participants in the treatment group recruited for Study I indicating that working alliance predict outcome in this tailored treatment. The second RCT was an effectiveness trial (Study III) analysing treatment effects and cost-effectiveness of the treatment up to one year post treatment in a primary-care population. This study showed positive treatment effects both regarding symptom reduction and cost-effectiveness, and that effects were sustained at one year post treatment. Conclusions drawn from these studies are that individually tailored ICBT seems to be a feasible approach for patients with anxiety disorders regardless of comorbidities, and a responsible choice in terms of societal costs.

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