Transdiagnostic Treatment for Anxiety Disorders, depression and other disorders

What is transdiagnostic treatment of emotional disorders?
They are treatment methods that focus on the theoretical and practical
commonalities in theory of different disorders to treat emotional disorders and
other disorders.

Some of the disorders treated by the use of transdiagnostic
treatment include anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders and other
related disorders.

According to recent studies, different psychiatric disorders
have similar fundamental underlying susceptibilities. Because of this,
currently there has been developed of transdiagnostic treatment to focus on the
underlying susceptibilities of different disorders.

Some of the core features and susceptibilities of anxiety
disorders are targeted by transdiagnostic treatment include:

  • Anxiety signals and triggers (e.g. situational,
    perceptive, and interoceptive signals or cues)
  • Perceptive or mental processes and biases (e.g.,
    intolerance of uncertainty)
  • Avoidance behaviors (e.g., situational,
    interoceptive, cognitive, and emotional avoidance)
  • Physical signs and symptoms, and amplified
  • Compulsions/ impulses and safety behaviors
  • Skills and competencies deficits

This approach is different to single-diagnosis protocol
where the focus is on one disorder only. Transdiagnostic approach has improved
the treatment prognosis of different emotional disorders.

The making of
transdiagnostic treatment can happen through three (3) separate approaches giving
rise to three clear categories:

  • Modular/common
    elements approach
  • Universally
    applied therapeutic approach
  • Mechanistically
    transdiagnostic approach

Modular/ common elements approach

This seems to be the most practical and realistic method for
transdiagnostic treatment development. The modular/ common element approach is
made of several therapeutic approaches and elements that have proven to be
effective across therapies like cognitive restructuring or exposure.

Each patient receives selected empirically proven
approaches/ strategies according to the patient’s problem in addition to
demographic and contextual aspects that are individually exclusive. Thus,
doctors can formulate a treatment that is unique to each patient.

The modular/ common element approach has extensively been
used in children and in low to middle income countries.

In children MATCH (modular approach to therapy for children
with anxiety), is an example of this approach in use. Match uses a decision
tool to formulate a therapy specific to each child.

In adults CETA (common elements treatment approach), has
been very effective in low to middle income countries in the treatment of
trauma related disorders. CETA gives the therapist a guide on how to
systematically use the different elements to ensure healing. Some of these
elements include behavioral activation and cognitive restructuring.

Universally applied therapeutic approach

Since transdiagnostic treatment was also developed using the
universally applied therapeutic principles, theoretically derived approaches
are believed to be the fundamental course of change. These theoretically
derived approaches such as therapeutic relationship and cognitive change were
used in other psychotherapies before.

These approaches have recently been classified as
transdiagnostic because historically they have been used in the study of several
mental disorders.

Cognitive therapy (CT), developed by Aaron T. Beck, is an
example of a transdiagnostic therapy that has used this approach. CT takes a
top-down approach to treat mental disorders. This is different from the
mechanistically transdiagnostic approach which employs a bottom-up approach.

CT was formulated to contest any patient’s inaccurate
thoughts in several disorders to give rise to precise balanced deductions.
These distorted thoughts may be about the yourself, the world and others.

In cognitive therapy, the thoughts that are contributing the
most to mental disorders symptoms are the ones that are focused on.

CT has been successful in a number of anxiety disorders and other mental disorders.

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Other universally applies therapeutic approaches therapies
in use include mindfulness-based therapy, client-centered therapy,
psychodynamic psychotherapy, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) among

transdiagnostic approach

This approach singles out psychological processes that
underlie a certain disorder class. Examples of such processes include overvaluation of shape and weight for
eating disorders, meaning you misperceive your own body shape as larger or
smaller than the normal body of a healthy person. In addition, you may perceive
some body shapes as more pleasant.

A group of
psychiatric disorders including anxiety disorders, eating disorders and others
manifest themselves by recurrent, severe adverse assumptions, powerful aversive
responses to the adverse effect, and substantial attempts to elude or evade the
negative affect. In other words, emotional disorders have three major features

  • Recurrent
    strong emotions
  • Negative
    reaction to the emotions
  • Avoidance
    and attempts to escape the emotions

This approach
targets the fundamental process such as the high negative affect in treating
the emotional disorders.

One of the commonly used mechanistically transdiagnostic approach is the Unified Protocol for the Transdiagnostic Treatment of Emotional Disorders (UP). UP targets the underlying vulnerability of different disorders rather than the diagnostic category.

The UP targets
the high negative affect and the low positive affect that affects the patient.
This is different from targeting the strong emotions caused by one disorder.

The UP has a
minimum of 8 modules which are covered in sessions. Each module can be
addressed in one or more sessions depending on the patient.

UP has been demonstrated to be efficacious in several anxiety
disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), Social anxiety disorder
(SAD), Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, agoraphobia and
PTSD. It is also effective in depression and hypochondria among other

Types of anxiety disorders

What are the 6 common types of anxiety disorders? There are
several types of anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders according to ADAA affects
over 40 million adults in the USA every year. Some of the types of anxiety
disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder)
  • Specific phobias
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Situational anxiety
  • Selective mutism

The common 6 anxiety disorders are generalized Anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), Panic disorder, specific phobia, separation anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

This anxiety disorder is characterized by extreme fear and
nervousness on various general events. The symptoms associated with GAD must be
present for a period of more than 6 months to have a more conclusive diagnosis.

People with GAD are referred on the street as neurotics or
worrywarts. These people are always worry about something.

The common anxiety symptoms that are experienced in GAD

  • Persistent edginess
  • Constant difficulty in paying attention or poor
  • Being always tired or fatigued.
  • Being fatigued easily
  • Having tense muscles
  • Restlessness
  • Sleep problems like insomnia

Generalized anxiety disorders affect around 6.8% of
Americans. This translates to around 6.8 million Americans.

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) or Social phobia

This anxiety disorder is the feeling of overwhelming fear or
worry concerning social events where scrutiny is expected. The anxiety about
these social situations is about the fear of being scrutinized, ridiculed,
embarrassed, ignored or judged.

The fixating fear and the constant need to avoid such
situations define the social phobia. In people suffering from SAD, these
situations are faced only if there is extreme pressure.

People with SAD always overjudge a situation. The fear may
be caused by a very small threat which the patient registers it as extreme.

Social anxiety disorder is therefore deduced if there is
repeated extreme fear of social situations and subsequent employment of
abnormal behaviors to cope or avoid the situation.

READ  The Unified Protocol

Specific phobias

Specific phobias are extreme and excessive fear about a
specific situation or object which are substantially beyond what is expected
for the actual threat involved. The fears include fear of heights, flying,
darkness, insects, flying, seas among others.

Other fears may be about threatening situations or objects
like snakes, spiders, enclosed spaces, sharks etc.

The object or situation that the individual fears is avoided
or coped with in an abnormal and dysfunctional manner. If this fear and the
behavior of coping the situation lasts for more than 6 months, the person is
said to have that specific phobia.

Panic disorder

Panic disorder: Treatment by transdiagnostic treatment

This is an anxiety disorder where there are repeated, random and extreme feeling of fear and panic. The panic attack present with the following symptoms: Sweating, shaking, chest pain, a feeling of getting choked and palpitations (irregular heartbeat). Other symptoms include nausea, dizziness and chills.

Patients describe the attack to be similar to a heart attack
or you are going crazy. Some also describe the feeling like a feeling of losing
control or having someone else’s body. The panic attack can happen at any time
even when you are sleeping.

In panic disorder, the panic attacks are followed by a period of extreme fear about getting another attack that lasts for more than a month. Panic disorders may be hereditary since studies show that they increase in case a relative had panic disorder or other anxiety disorders.

Women are twice as much likely to get a panic disorder as
compared to men. In the USA, about 6 million (2.7%) are affected by panic

Panic disorder is related to disorders of other body systems
like endocrine and cardiovascular systems. Patients with panic disorder often
are prone to depression and substance abuse.


According to DSM-5, the agoraphobia was defined as its own
anxiety disorder. Agoraphobia is strongly related to panic disorder.

Agoraphobia is the fear and worry about being in situations
or places where it is difficult to escape, is uncomfortable or in situations
when support is unavailable when it is required.

Agoraphobia is caused by the concern about getting a panic
attack thus the relations with panic disorder. People with agoraphobia are seen
to be concentrating in escape routes or positioning themselves in an area where
the door is visible if they are in a room.

In addition to the fear, people with agoraphobia have
avoidance behaviors. These behaviors sometimes add to the fear or cause serious

Some of the situations that are avoided by people with
agoraphobia include:

  • Using public transport
  • Using a taxi alone
  • Being in enclosed spaces
  • Being in open spaces or in a crowd
  • Standing in line with others
  • Going out of home alone.

When the fears and avoidance behaviors manifest for over 6 months
with interference in daily activities, agoraphobia is suspected.  The fear felt in agoraphobia is normally
disproportionate as compared to the danger posed by the fear causing event or

Separation anxiety disorder (SepAD)

People with this fear have repeated, extreme and
inappropriate anxiety about being separated from a person or place where you
are attached to. It is quite different from separation anxiety which is normal
in babies.

Separation anxiety disorder affects 4% and 7% of children and adults respectively. It is more severe in adults than in children.

The individuals suffering separation anxiety disorder may
refuse to leave a place or person he is accustomed to. When they are in a
different place or the accustomed person is not around, they may suffer from
lack of sleep or may get nightmares.

SepAD may develop in childhood and persist to adulthood if
not treated. Therefore, it is recommended that the diagnosis in children should
be done early enough and the condition treated to prevent complications.

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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

This disorder is characterized by repetitive obsessive
thoughts (obsession) or performing certain rituals or behaviors (compulsions).
These obsessions and compulsions make life unbearable.

People with OCD have compulsions like counting, cleaning,
handwashing or checking if the door is closed. These compulsions are done to
avoid or cope with the unwanted thoughts.

Not making the compulsions increases anxiety and making them
offers temporary relief.

OCD is associated with an increase in the risk of suicide
and tics. The risk factors for obsessive-compulsive disorder are genetics, and
certain infects even though the cause is unknown. OCD may also develop if there
was a history of abuse and exposure to stress in your childhood.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a mental health disorder that develops in some
individuals after exposure to a terrifying event. The terrifying event may have
caused or threatened to cause bodily injury.

PTSD may develop if you or someone close to you experienced
the terrifying event in your presence. Events that have been seen to cause PTSD
in Americans include violent personal assaults, disasters, military battle or

The symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, nightmares and
severe fear. These happen in addition to overwhelming thoughts about the event.

The symptoms can be aggregated into avoidance, intrusive
memories, foul moods and thoughts and having disparities in physical and
emotional reactions.

The PTSD symptoms may start within a month after being
exposed to the terrifying event or may even take years to start. These symptoms
cause problems in performing the daily activities thus affecting your work or

Some people heal after exposure to the traumatic event, but some develop PTSD. Healing may require time and self-care. There are several successful treatment methods for PTSD including Unified Protocol.

Selective mutism

Selective mutism is a childhood anxiety disorder where an
individual with speaking abilities is incapable of speaking in particular
situations or to some people. For most people suffering from selective mutism,
the disorder co-exists with social anxiety and being shy.

For children or adults with selective mutism, silence is
sustained even when they are sure of being mocked, humiliated, punished or
socially ostracized. Selective mutism affects 0.8% of all people.

It is quite overwhelming and painful. Selective mutism affects the child’s social skills. The severity of the disorder varies from individual to individual.

The selective mutism cause is unknown like in other anxiety
disorders, but genetics play a huge role in it. 
The children with selective mutism have extreme anxiety tendencies, are
shy, moody and throw tantrums often in addition to having sleeping problems.

What causes anxiety disorders to develop?

In almost all anxiety disorders, the following are the most mentioned causes:

  • Genetics
  • History
    of trauma or suffering
  • Abuse
    of drugs and other substances
  • Diseases
  • Side
    effects of some medications

The bottom line

Transdiagnostic treatment for anxiety disorders are
ground-breaking treatment options for emotional disorders. These treatment
methods are great in targeting almost all emotional disorders.

The different transdiagnostic approaches work well for all
anxiety disorders. They utilize the fundamental vulnerabilities of all
emotional disorders to formulate a treatment.

The main strength of transdiagnostic treatment is the ease
in its dissemination. This way it can be deployed in the treatment of all
emotional disorders with reduced costs.

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