Integrative Psychotherapy VIII: Symptom reduction of anxiety

If you recall from prior chapters, McMinn and Campbell propose a 3 tiered model (IP) to address symptom, schema, and relationship issues. In chapter 7, they explore symptom focused interventions for anxiety (while not denying or addressing relational or schema matters of anxiety disorders). The authors provide a description of 5 types of anxiety problems (panic, phobias, OCD, PTSD, and GAD) and typical Cognitive Therapy interventions for each. For example, they describe panic as a “fear of fear” and explore interventions designed to interrupt the cycle of “internal physiological events” and “fearful appraisal of physiological sensations.” Such interventions include cognitive challenges or reframes, breathing and relaxation, and exposure (in vivo or imaginal) coupled with relaxation training. 

After providing this review of anxiety and common interventions, they move to a very brief discussion of fear from a spiritual perspective. The opposite of fear is love (not courage). They conclude that fear is, “a great spiritual problem” (p. 236). But, they quickly say, “we should not attribute anxiety problems to spiritual weakness.” They argue that doing that sets up an inappropriate simplistic model (you are anxious because you are immature) and ignores the complexities of fear. They fear it may also send the message that only people with anxiety cause their problems, when in fact we all live “outside of Eden.” So, our bodies, our communities, our wills are all tainted with sin. But, they say, “it is damaging and unrealistic to assume direct and immediate connections between a particular problem and spiritual maturity.” What should we do? “Our best response is to recognize our own brokenness so that we can, in humility, become people of compassion and understanding, willing to walk alongside others through the difficult passages of life.” (p. 236)

My thoughts? This is a classic CT review of anxiety. I’m not sure I saw much of their theological model of persons in this chapter. However, I have to remember this is a chapter designed only to address the symptom reduction aspects of therapy. The authors did not intend to look at relationships and schemas. In the real world, we can’t separate out schema and symptoms and deal with only one and not the other. I understand why they do highlight interventions in each domain in the book, but it comes at a cost (realism). I do wish they would have included a chapter on putting it all together by following a particular case. I also wish they would keep following anxiety problems through the other 2 domains of the model, but they didn’t.

My bigger concern is the thin discussion on spiritual aspects of fear symptoms. Now, maybe they will pick up more when we get to schemas since schemas look at worldview and beliefs. But, while I agree completely with the last quote above, I think they make an all-or-nothing proposal. They are right that judgmentalism and simplistic understandings of fear are inappropriate. However, avoidance tactics found with panic symptoms do reveal implicit demands for control beyond what God intends. Symptoms both happen and are chosen. These demands that we make may be unconscious and may be completely understandable. And yet, I believe we can explore symptom maintenance and reduction AND talk about spiritual matters without equating spiritual maturity with the elimination of all problems.   For example, OCD symptoms such as worry that one has caused harm to another (e.g., hit someone while driving to work) can be best treated by cognitive challenges, imaginal exposure and response prevention. But as one attempts these interventions it is likely that conversations arise about the desire to avoid causing anyone harm. Now that is a deeply spiritual conversation–and I suspect the authors agree. Hopefully we’ll see some discussion of this in the next two chapters as they look at schema issues.  


Filed under Anxiety, book reviews, christian counseling, christian psychology, Psychology

2 responses to “Integrative Psychotherapy VIII: Symptom reduction of anxiety

  1. eclexia

    Very interesting and thought-provoking. I’m most curious about the application to PTSD.

  2. They discuss (a) prolonged exposure and, (b) cognitive re-structuring. Because they are just summarizing kinds of CT treatment they don’t go into much detail. They do mention the use of writing the narrative of the traumatic events as a form of exposure to the trauma (called cognitive processing therapy).

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