Sensitization of catastrophic cognition in cognitive-behavioral therapy for panic disorder
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Background Cognitive model of panic disorder have proposed that panic attacks result from the catastrophic misinterpretation of certain bodily sensations. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for panic disorder aims to change these catastrophic cognitions. CBT intervention successfully caused reduction of catastrophic cognitions and symptomatic improvement in the majority of cases. However there are some patients who fail to modify their catastrophic cognitions or rather experience an increase in them during CBT treatment. It is clinically and theoretically important to understand about cognitive sensitization of panic disorder during CBT sessions. The purpose of the present study is 1) to clarify the baseline characteristics of panic patients who would experience sensitization of their catastrophic cognitions through the CBT treatment, and 2) to examine the course of symptomatic changes for them. Methods Of ninety-five outpatients with panic disorder started the group CBT program for treatment of panic disorder, seventy-nine completer were classified as "cognitively sensitized (CS)" or "cognitive responding (CR)" or "no-responder" according to the difference of the Agoraphobic Cognitions Questionnaire score across treatment. We compared the CS and CR patients in terms of their baseline clinical characteristics. Then we assessed the symptomatic and functional changes for both groups. Results At the start of the CBT program, despite of the same degree of panic disorder severity, CS scored significantly lower on ACQ score than CR. CS also showed significantly lower score on anticipatory anxiety compared to CR. At the end of treatment CS showed significant improvement in severity of panic disorder, although the degree of improvement was smaller than that for CR. Then CS would progressively reduce their agoraphobic fear and avoidance, and would improve their functional impairment up to three month of follow-up. Conclusion Panic patients who would experience sensitization of their catastrophic cognitions through the CBT treatment could nonetheless gradually improve. They showed a relatively low level of catastrophic cognition and anticipatory anxiety before starting the CBT program. We might conclude that temporary sensitization of catastrophic cognition may be necessary before improvement especially among those with initially low catastrophic body sensation fears and that we need not be concerned too much with temporary increase in catastrophic cognition in the process of CBT for panic disorder.