Zettle, 2003

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APA Citation: 

Zettle, R. D. (2003). Acceptance and commitment therapy vs. systematic desensitization in treatment of mathematics anxiety. The Psychological Record, 53(2), 197-215.

Publication Topic: 
ACT: Empirical
Education: Empirical
Publication Type: 
systematic desensitization; Mathematics Anxiety; ACT

College students (N = 24) experiencing math anxiety were treated individually for 6 weeks with either acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) or systematic desensitization. Statistical analyses indicated significant, but equivalent, reductions in self-report measures of math and test anxiety that were maintained at 2-month follow-up. Both statistically and clinically significant decrements in trait anxiety were limited to participants treated with systematic desensitization. No improvement in mathematical skills was noted for either treatment. Pretreatment levels of experiential avoidance were more strongly related to therapeutic change among participants receiving ACT but not SD, suggesting that the two interventions, although generally comparable in reducing math anxiety, may do so through different processes.

Small randomized controlled trial shows that ACT is about as good as systematic desensitization in reducing math anxiety, but works according to a different process. Systematic desensitization reduced trait anxiety more. ACT results were better for high emotional avoiders. This is the only study so far with a negative effect size for ACT -- in this case in comparison to systematic desensitization.
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