Doctors are finding creative ways to make cognitive behavioral therapy more effective

The Wall Street Journal has covered the latest research of SMU clinical psychologist Alicia Meuret, quoting her as an expert source.

The article, “For better talk therapy, try taking a nap,” published Nov. 28.

Meuret is director of the Anxiety and Depression Research Center at SMU, with expertise in discussing the differences between fear and anxiety and when each is helpful and adaptive and when they are harmful and interfere with our lives.

An associate professor in the Clinical Psychology Division at the SMU Department of Psychology, Meuret received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Hamburg based on her doctoral work conducted at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. She completed postdoctoral fellowships at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University and the Affective Neuroscience Laboratory in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University.

Her research program focuses on novel treatment approaches for anxiety and mood disorders, biomarkers in anxiety disorders and chronic disease, fear extinction mechanisms of exposure therapy, and mediators and moderators in individuals with affective dysregulations, including non-suicidal self-injury.

The article “For better talk therapy, try taking a nap,” cites new findings from Meuret’s research, which found patients undergoing exposure therapy for anxiety fared better when sessions were held in the morning when levels of the helpful natural hormone cortisone are higher in the brain.

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EXCERPT:

By Andrea Petersen
Wall Street Journal

New tweaks are improving the age-old practice of talk therapy.

Doing therapy in the morning, taking a nap afterward or adding a medication that enhances learning are just a few of the methods scientists are discovering that can make cognitive behavioral therapy work better.

CBT, which involves changing dysfunctional patterns of thoughts and behaviors, is one of the most well-researched and effective treatments for a range of mental health issues, including anxiety disorders, depression and eating disorders.

But about a quarter to half of people with depression and anxiety don’t get significant relief after a course of CBT, which usually consists of about 12 to 15 weekly sessions. Some patients find the treatment time-consuming and difficult. Anywhere from 15% to 30% of people who begin it don’t finish, says David H. Barlow, founder of the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University. “There’s still plenty of room for improvement,” he says.

A study published in September in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology that involved 24 patients with anxiety disorders found that therapy appointments earlier in the day were more effective than those later in the day.

In the study, subjects—who all had panic disorder with agoraphobia (fear of situations where escape may be difficult)—were treated with exposure therapy, a common component of CBT: They repeatedly confronted situations they feared, such as being in elevators or crowds. Subjects with sessions early in the day reported less severe anxiety symptoms at their next session than those who had sessions later in the day.

The researchers found that higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol that naturally occur in the morning were responsible for at least part of the benefit of the earlier sessions. “Acute boosts of cortisol can actually facilitate learning,” says Alicia E. Meuret, associate professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University and lead author of the study.

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