Cognitve-Behavior Therapy and Exposure for the treatment of Health Anxiety, has been consistently demonstrated to be the most effective approach when working with this challenging condition. Our Clinic's therapeutic approach depends heavily on the use of Cognitive Therapy treatment strategies which first involve helping the patient to become more aware of, and subsequently change, perceptions and typical interpretations of their own physical sensations and/or bodily changes (e.g., "these headaches I keep having are no doubt indicative that I have a brain tumor"), as well as several other maladaptive health-related beliefs, which create high levels of emotional arousal. That is, we first help the patient to better understand their current thought patterns which they frequently use to predict specific health-related outcomes, as well as how these outcomes are often catastrophized. We then help our patients to explore other possible interpretations/predictions regarding these outcomes; interpretations that they may not be accustomed to thinking about. In other words, encouraging our patients to widen their "perspective lens" by getting into the habit of saying..."wait a minute, rather than keep using the term 'symptoms', which implies a medical condition, I'm going to simply refer to the term 'body noise', which just indicates a normal physical change that most people experience on a day-to-day basis".
Once this goal has been accomplished, we then begin the Behavior Therapy component of our treatment program for Health Anxiety, which incorporates the use of Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) strategies, while at all times working together with the patient, at his or her own pace. As a result of these goals, it is common for our Clinic to assign weekly out-of-office planned exposure exercises to perform, in addition to various "behavioral experiments", which are designed to (a) expose the individual to the feared objects, situations, and physical sensations related to the source of their anxiety, (b) prevent safety behaviors and reassurance seeking, and (c) formally test maladaptive health-related beliefs. Common cognitive errors (i.e., the manner in which a person tends to consistently misinterpret a particular situation) often include: Jumping to Conclusions (e.g., "the doctors keep agreeing to test me, so there must be something wrong"); Emotional Reasoning (e.g., "since I'm feeling worried about my health, surely I must be very ill"); and Intolerance for Uncertainty (e.g., "if I am not completely sure that I am healthy, then I'll always remain anxious that I may have a serious medical condition"). Our basic therapeutic goals are simply this: If the patient does not want to do something, then they need to do it; if the patient wants to avoid something, they should face it; if the patient wants to do something to feel better (i.e., seek some form of reassurance), they should not. For more information on Health Anxiety (Complex Somatic Symptom Disorder), please visit the Anxiety & Depression Association of America and the National Institute of Mental Health web sites.