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Cognitive Bias Modification to Rid Addiction?

Posted Apr 26 2011 7:09pm

Ever Evolving Therapy

Talking it out during therapy is nothing new. As a matter of fact, you can see this type of therapy dating all the back to the 1880s. Since then, this type of therapy has been ever evolving into a more modern style. A type of modern therapy called Cognitive Behavioral therapy can go a little something like this: talking with your therapist for hours on end in hopes for the treatment of anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders. There are all sorts of treatments when it comes to addiction and its causes, and many if not all, have been proven effect. While therapy with a therapist certainly works for some, it may not work for all, which is where therapy without a therapist may come in handy.

Introducing Cognitive Bias Modification

In a recent article published in the March edition of the Economist , a new approach to therapy is brought to light. Supposedly this new kind of therapy begins to show effectiveness using 15 minute sessions, and does not require the help of a therapist. The approach of CBM (Cognitive Bias Modification) is actually so simple that all it takes is the patient and use of a computer.

cognitive bias computer Cognitive Bias Modification to Rid Addiction?

As the patient uses the CBM program, it works to rid the individual of attentional biases. This is when someone feels uncontrollably threatened because they perceive something as being dangerous, when in truth it is not harmful. These unconscious biases are the cause of anxiety, and various psychological issues. With CBM these negative patterns of thought that can be harmful, are treated. This type of treatment is being tested on several disorders including alcohol abuse, and other disturbances that come about within our daily lives.

How it Works

So how can it be that a simple computer program can effectively work just as much as a therapist? In order to understand the underlining basis of CBM, let’s observe an example. At work or school, you walk by an acquaintance who fails to greet you by saying hello. You can assume that they intentionally ignored you, or they simply did not see you pass by. Someone with an anxiety disorder would most likely automatically assume that they were being completely ignored. This stems from bias. When these biases are changed and altered, the assumption of that person with the anxiety disorder will switch assumptions and instead believe that their acquaintance didn’t see them and meant no harm.

anxiety CBM Cognitive Bias Modification to Rid Addiction?

With that being said it is actually done by showing the individual two items on the computer screen. There can either be two words, or two pictures. Regardless, one of the items (words or pictures) is considered to be neutral, while the other has a negative or harmful meaning. The patient is then asked to do a task that will involve them choosing the neutral picture or word. The patient will do this exercise literally thousands of times. In return the result of one’s way of thinking becomes altered. A person who suffers from depression will automatically lean towards the negative but with the help of CBM they are forced to see things in a different, more positive light.

Studies of CBM

As of right now, Cognitive Bias is still under research and testing. You currently cannot receive CBM from just anywhere unless you are participating in studies. Just as with other forms of therapy, lots of testing must be done before it is made available to all patients.

In a study performed by Norman Schmidt at Florida State University, social anxiety was examined which consisted of 36 volunteers who were diagnosed with the disorder. Half of the volunteer group underwent CBM, while the others did not. Specifically, they endured 8 sessions of CBM, which were fairly short in length. It turned out that patients who did the CBM treatment had significantly less amounts of anxiety versus those who did not participate in this type of therapy. They were 12% more successful in the lessening of anxiety. This trial although small, had more than positive results.

A far more significant study took place at the University of Amsterdam. A total of 214 were included which consisted of some using the standard form of addiction treatment, and the others using both the standard form along with CBM. The group who received both treatments had more of a success rate versus the others. About 41% of them were still clean up to one year later, and 54% of those individuals were still clean two years after with the mixed treatments. While the goal will always be to have everyone stay sober (at 100%), these results are still fairly positive in terms of treating addiction.

What will they come up with next for types of therapy, we will not know but what they have done thus far, seems very positive. We would love to hear your thoughts on Cognitive Bias Modification, and if you think this is something you would try.


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