AnxietyCognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is twice as effective as standard care for people with health anxiety, a study in The Lancet has found.

Researchers found that 14% of patients given CBT regained normal anxiety levels against 7% given the usual care of basic reassurance. They also found that this improvement was sustained over 2 years.

Up to 20% of hospital patients are thought to worry obsessively about their health.

In the study, 219 people were given 5-10 sessions of adapted cognitive behaviour therapy delivered by hospital-based therapists, with 224 given standard care in the clinics.
The authors concluded that this form of adapted CBT for health anxiety deserves wider application in medical care.

Isabella Goldie, head of programmes at the Mental Health Foundation, welcomed the findings: “The findings of this study are vital in ensuring we have a strong evidence base to support therapy options offered to people with mental health problems. After years of campaigning, the Foundation has very much welcomed Increased Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) as a key driver in England in supporting greater access to choices of therapy, as well as moves across the UK to develop access to evidence based therapies.

“CBT is an effective treatment for many types of mental health problem and may assist individuals with the debilitating conditions like health anxiety in managing their distress and fears. However the techniques do not suit everybody and should always be one option in a range of person-centred care.

“While much work has been done in the area, a greater focus is required on ensuring people subject to inequalities, who most need support are able to access to services. Factors such as age discrimination and literacy skills can affect people’s ability and willingness to access services. It is vital greater levels of investment are made into technology as part of the solution, to enable people to self-manage in the privacy of their own home and reduce the stigma attached to accessing mental health services.”

Reference: Tyrer P, Cooper S, Salkovskis P, Tyrer H, Crawfird M, Byford S, Dupont S, Finnis S, Green J, McLaren E, Murphy D, Reid S, Smith G, Wang D, Warwick H, Petkova H & Barrett B (2013) Clinical and cost-effectiveness of cognitive behaviour therapy for health anxiety in medical patients: a multicentre randomised controlled trial. The Lancet - DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)61905-4