Computer-based therapy relieves fears

Know any good computerized therapists? Researchers think they might have found one, showing in a small trial that an application that delivered cognitive bias modification (CBM) helped treat people with social anxiety disorder.

The 32-person trial led by researchers at Brown University showed that those who got the CBM treatment improved their scores on a standardized anxiety measure and did better at public speaking compared with those in a control group. Twenty patients in the treatment arm used the technology, which gave them exercises to help ignore worrisome social cues and see the sunnier side of situations, twice a week for four weeks.

The results, published online in the journal Depression and Anxiety, bolster the credibility of this new way of treating anxiety, which affects millions of Americans and is traditionally treated with in-person therapy and medication. While small, the clinical trial is the first randomized study of CBM as a treatment for the mood disorder. The cognitive bias approach has been around for years and has previously shown promise in treating addiction in alcoholics.

"A lot of people are skeptical, particularly people like me who are clinicians and know how hard it is to help people with anxiety and how much effort and time it takes in therapy," Dr. Courtney Beard, the study's lead author and an assistant research professor at Brown's medical school, said in a statement. "It just doesn't seem possible that a computer program could produce similar effects. But I'm more of a scientist than a clinician so I want to see data."

At least one of the study's investigators, Nader Amir, of San Diego State University, is involved in a company called Cognitive Retraining Technology that markets CBM therapy software, according to its website.

- here's Brown's release
- see the journal abstract

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