When it comes to mental health, everybody’s experience differs, and so there is no immediate one-size-fits-all treatment. A new study in Behavior Therapy suggests that there is a key element that can help those dealing with anxiety, though. Don’t underestimate the importance of hope, they say.
Hope, according to the study, is a strong predictor of recovery from anxiety disorders, and therapists that incorporate it into cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are more likely to see increasingly positive results from their patients in recovery.
While “hope” is a rather broad term, in psychology circles it is associated with other positive constructs, like optimism and self-efficacy, which have been linked to resilience to emotional disorders and shown to motivate recovery. In psychotherapy circles, it represents the capacity of a patient to identify strategies to achieve goals, and the motivation to pursue those strategies.
The study, led by Dr Matthew Gallagher of the University of Houston, is part of a much larger project on the efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety disorders. For this particular research, Gallagher and co. examined the role of hope in predicting recovery by putting together a clinical trial assessing 223 adults currently in transdiagnostic CBT, disorder-specific CBT, or, as a control group, waitlisted for CBT for four common anxiety disorders: panic disorder, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.
Their results indicated that hope gradually increases during a course of CBT across all four disorders, and that increases in hope were experienced at a much greater level by those in active treatment compared to those waitlisted. Moderate-to-large increases in hope and changes in hope were consistent across all CBT treatment protocols. This, the researchers concluded, shows that instilling hope is a key factor in promoting recovery.
“In reviewing recovery during CBT among the diverse clinical presentations, hope was a common element and a strong predictor of recovery,” Gallagher said in a statement.
“Our results can lead to a better understanding of how people are recovering and it’s something therapists can monitor," he added. "If a therapist is working with a client who isn’t making progress, or is stuck in some way, hope might be an important mechanism to guide the patient forward toward recovery.”
Though encouraging hope can have a positive outcome, it's also important to note that putting pressure on patients to feel things they perhaps don't, or can't at that time, may have a detrimental effect. On the other hand, there is the argument that without anxiety there can be no hope.