UH Professor Receives Grant for Anxiety Study

A University of Houston professor is conducting a study into anxiety disorders. His research caught the attention of the National Institute of Mental Health which awarded him a $750,000 grant to find effective treatment for people who suffer from anxiety. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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The Anxiety Clinic at the University of Houston treats people using cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT is a treatment method where patients are taught to recognize irrational thoughts and fears and replace them with more realistic responses. Dr. Peter Norton runs the anxiety clinic. His research won the Mentored Research Scientist Development Award, a prestigious grant for young researchers with a promising career. Norton says the grant will allow him to study how effective group cognitive behavioral therapy actually is.

"The main thing is not only looking at how effective are the treatments, but more importantly looking at what might make the treatments more or less effective for different people. Are there some people who maybe the gender of the client, or maybe the match between perhaps the race of the therapist and the race of the individual receiving the treatment, or maybe there are various characteristics in types of anxiety. So it's really going to be an in-depth examination into not only how effective is treatment, but what will make treatment more of less effective for different people with different characteristics."

Using CBT, Norton says he can treat whole groups of people at once, instead of focusing on individual cases. So someone with a social anxiety disorder, someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder and someone with a phobia could all be in the same group, even though their anxiety manifests itself in vastly different ways. Norton says he's able to treat people this way because the underlying disorder is the same.

"It's just where the fear latches on to, so because perhaps I might have been raised in a family where we stressed issues of you need to make good first impressions, it's very important what people think of you, I might start to develop more socially bound fears. But if a spider came along and bit you when you were a child you might be more likely to develop a fear of spiders. But the underlying fear, the underlying mechanisms cause the fear to continue and drive the anxiety disorder are largely the same."

As many as one out of four Americans has an anxiety disorder. That number may be a bit high because not everyone in that 25 percent of the population has a severe disorder. Some minor anxiety disorders can be overcome without therapy. But Norton says for people who feel their lives are disrupted by anxiety, CBT is a good treatment option.

"Long gone are the days of the many, many years in therapy to overcome anxiety or depression or related. We realize we can do this in a short-term approach. Meeting once a week, the groups last about two hours, sometimes a little bit more, and over the course of 12 weeks the gains that we're seeing from people are excellent."

Norton says at the end of 12 weeks, a patient can expect to be subclinical, meaning their anxiety is present but easily manageable, or they will be completely cured. For more information about the University of Houston Anxiety Clinic

, 713-743-6800, visit our website, kuhf dot org. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.