Optimizing Exposure Therapy for Anxiety Disorders

2019-08-12 17:41:31 | BioPortfolio


The study will compare the effects that two different approaches of exposure therapy have on reducing fear and anxiety in individuals with social anxiety disorder or panic disorder.


A substantial number of individuals fail to achieve clinically significant symptom relief from exposure-based therapies or experience a return of fear following exposure therapy completion. The prevailing model of exposure therapy for phobias and anxiety disorders purports that fear reduction throughout exposure therapy (i.e., habituation) is reflective of learning and critical to overall therapeutic outcome. However, the amount by which fear - indexed by both self-report, behavioral, and biological correlates of fear expression - reduces by the end of an exposure trial or series of exposure trials is not a reliable predictor of the fear level expressed at follow-up assessment.

Developments in the theory and science of fear extinction, and learning and memory, indicate that 'performance during training' is not commensurate with learning at the process level. Inconsistent findings regarding fear reduction are paralleled by findings based in associative learning laboratory paradigms with animals and human samples, specifically that outward expression of fear on the one hand, and conditional associations indicative of underlying learning on the other hand, may not always change in concordance. Rather, 'inhibitory learning' is recognized as being central to extinction, rather than fear during extinction training.

The current proposal will compare the 'emotional processing' or habituation-based model of exposure therapy to the competing inhibitory model of exposure that emphasizes learning theory principles. No study has directly compared these approaches to determine which provides optimal symptom relief and return of fear, or mediators and moderators that may contribute to these outcomes.

In an effort to address this gap, the current study plans to recruit participants for a treatment trial consisting of two psychotherapies: (a) habituation-based exposure therapy and (b) inhibitory learning-based exposure therapy. The primary goal of this study is to determine if one theoretical approach to exposure outperform the other in reducing symptoms.

This study is conducted with individuals meeting diagnostic criteria for social anxiety disorder or panic disorder. Participants will be randomized to either treatment condition and receive 9 sessions of individual psychotherapy focused on either of these disorders. If individual meets diagnostic criteria for both disorders, treatment will be focused on the primary presenting disorder. Participants will complete four assessments over the course of the study, at pre-treatment, mid-treatment, post-treatment, and three-month follow-up. Pre-treatment, mid-treatment, and post-treatment assessments occur over two days, while three-month follow-up requires only a single day and is conducted remotely.

These assessments will include semi-structured interviews, self-report questionnaires, and laboratory paradigms designed to examine fear learning processes.

Study Design


Social Anxiety Disorder


Inhibitory Learning-Based Exposure, Habituation-Based Exposure


University of California, Los Angeles
Los Angeles
United States




University of California, Los Angeles

Results (where available)

View Results


Published on BioPortfolio: 2019-08-12T17:41:31-0400

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