Our lab has several grants that support numerous research studies on the cognitive-behavioral processes involved in anxiety/OCD and the treatment of OCD. Some of our major grant-funded projects are described below.
OCD Treatment Study: Exposure Therapy (ERP) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
The most effective treatment for OCD is ERP, which entails confronting obsessional triggers (i.e., exposure) and resisting urges to ritualize (response prevention). But these techniques are challenging and anxiety-provoking, and between 25% and 50% of patients with access to ERP refuse it, drop out prematurely, or do not adhere to the treatment instructions. As a result, they show attenuated response. Given the effectiveness of ERP, it is important to develop ways to make it more tolerable and increase patient adherence. In this study, we consider Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which has recently been studied for OCD, as a way to address the tolerability and adherence issues with ERP. ACT fosters a willingness to experience unwanted inner experiences (e.g., obsessional thoughts, anxiety) and is consistent with ERP. We are comparing traditional ERP to ERP+ACT and hypothesize that adding ACT to ERP will help patients (a) engage in ERP tasks, (b) confront high levels of anxiety without using escape/avoidance strategies, and (c) resist rituals. This study is a collaboration with colleagues at Utah State University.
Couples-based treatment for OCD
We know that intimate relationships can have a significant impact on OCD symptoms. Some partners accommodate their loved ones with OCD by participating in rituals or assisting with avoidance strategies. In other cases, relationship stress (that might develop from the presence of OCD in the first place) increases the sufferer’s OCD symptoms. For example, if there is hostility or personal criticism directed at the person with OCD by his or her partner, this can paradoxically increase OCD symptoms. Our study is in collaboration with Donald Baucom, PhD and the UNC Couples Lab. We are designing and testing a cognitive-behavioral therapy program that addresses OCD and includes the sufferer’s partner as a coach. In addition to exposure and response prevention treatment, the couple (both partners attend all 12 treatment sessions) work on developing their relationship in ways that help the OCD sufferer to reduce his or her symptoms.
Research Consortium on Intrusive Fear (RCIF)
The RCIF is an international group of 17 psychologists and psychiatrists from 12 countries who are conducting research on the nature of intrusive fearful thoughts and images. New research tools to understand the origins, persistence and management of intrusive fear have been developed, and there are a number of key questions directing the our research agenda: Do people from different countries have the same personal fears? What is the most effective way to get rid of intrusive fear? What causes some people to develop an anxiety disorder from their intrusive fearful thoughts? What is the most effective way to treat more extreme and persistent intrusive fear? What do individuals learn from their society about how to deal with intrusive fearful thoughts? Are some religious and cultural teachings more helpful than others? What can we learn from different cultures about the management of fearful intrusive thoughts?
Other Ongoing Research
Our lab is also conducting research in the following areas:
- Intolerance of uncertainty
- Attentional biases in OCD
- Scrupulosity and thought-action fusion
- Health anxiety
- Relevance of subclinical samples to actual OCD patients
Check out some of our most recent journal articles based on these studies here.