Toward a unified treatment for emotional disorders
Over 40 years of development of cognitive behavioral approaches to treating anxiety and related emotional disorders have left us with highly efficacious treatments that are increasingly widely accepted. Nevertheless, these manualized protocols have become numerous and somewhat complex, restricting effective training and dissemination. Deepening understanding of the nature of emotional disorders reveals that commonalities in etiology and latent structure among these disorders supercedes differences. This suggests the possibility of distilling a set of psychological procedures that would comprise a unified intervention for emotional disorders. Based on theory and data emerging from the fields of learning, emotional development and regulation, and cognitive science, we identify three fundamental therapeutic components relevant to the treatment of emotional disorders generally. These three components include (a) altering antecedent cognitive reappraisals; (b) preventing emotional avoidance; and (c) facilitating action tendencies not associated with the emotion that is dysregulated. This treatment takes place in the context of provoking emotional expression (emotional exposure) through situational, internal, and somatic (interoceptive cues), as well as through standard mood-induction exercises, and differs from patient to patient only in the situational cues and exercises utilized. Theory and rationale supporting this new approach are described along with some preliminary experience with the protocol. This unified treatment may represent a more efficient and possibly a more effective strategy in treating emotional disorders, pending further evaluation.