The role of therapist experiential avoidance in predicting therapist preference for exposure treatment for OCD


Stephanie Rabin Scherr, James D. Herbert & Evan M. Forman


Despite the overwhelming evidence that the behavioral components of cognitive-behavior therapies (CBTs) are critical for patient improvement, particularly in the case of anxiety disorders, there remains a wide gap between science and practice in their consistent use. In particular, exposure therapy for anxiety is under-used, even among self-proclaimed cognitive-behavior therapists. Some have speculated that this under-use is related to therapist discomfort with and avoidance of the temporary increase in distress that patients often experience during exposure therapy, and the secondary distress that this may cause in therapists themselves. Recent studies have begun to examine therapist characteristics that are associated with the use of evidence-based psychotherapies, but this research has focused on evidence-based practice as a whole rather than on specific interventions such as exposure, and have not addressed therapist psychological variables. We examined the role of therapists' experiential avoidance in the hypothetical use of exposure-based interventions to treat fictional patients for whom exposure therapy is clearly indicated. A total of 172 therapists watched simulated therapy intake sessions and were asked to designate the percentage of time they would allot towards various therapeutic modalities, including exposure. Results suggested that participants exhibiting higher experiential avoidance tended to allot less time to exposure therapy for the fictional patient. Additional therapist personality factors, such as intuitive personality style and attitudes towards evidence-based treatments, were associated with self-reported use of exposure therapy as well.

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