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The work of Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, has been highlighted in The Guardian to reveal innovative new approaches to tackle mental health disorders.

Snorkelling Shutterstock

Extract from The Guardian:

The therapy

Dr Andrea Reinecke, clinical psychologist and researcher at Oxford University, is pioneering a new, and some might say tough, form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Her one-off sessions involve locking her patient in a cupboard so he or she can have, and get through, a panic attack.

In the first experimental study, which tested the impact of one-hour sessions of CBT on patients with panic disorders, all 30 patients showed improvement and one-third reported being completely free of symptoms a month later.

A second study combining the one-hour CBT with cicloserine, an antibiotic known to have a positive impact on neuro-plasticity, is about to be completed and looks set to report even better results.

The CBT session involves Reinecke talking to people with panic disorders about what prompts their panic attacks and about their coping strategies. Then Reinecke locks the patients in a cupboard, without access to any of these coping mechanisms, and let’s them go through a panic attack unaided.

This is important, according to Reinecke, because the  brain starts to learn that it wasn’t the coping mechanism – breathing into a paper bag, calling a friend, or avoiding the situation – that prevented them  from dying. 

I can walk the dog anywhere I like, I’ve just recently done my first long-haul flight to the Caribbean, I went snorkelling, which is a big thing for me because of having a mask over my face. I can go in a lift by myself. - Teresa White

Teresa White, a carer from Oxfordshire, participated in  the second trial, in March 2015. She had panic attacks  for 20 years, which meant she couldn’t travel alone or  be in a lift by herself. Even deviating from her regular  dog-walking route would bring on a panic attack.

“I always felt like something bad was going to  happen,” said White. “I was going to have a heart attack, I was going to pass out or I was going to die. I’d never actually been on a train by myself either until I’d done the study.”

White says the one-hour CBT treatment has been life-changing.

Reinecke said the speed and intensity of this treatment meant that not only was it cheaper, but also more patients saw it through. There is a high dropout rate for a typical 12-session course of CBT spread over six months.

“Whereas this goes for an hour, it’s one session where they have to push themselves, they can cry and scream and shout at me, but it’s going to work. It’s not only about cutting short but also about making things more effective,” said Reinecke.

So far, Reinecke is optimistic about the treatment’s effectiveness in the treatment of panic disorders, which affect 5% of the population. Her team is looking into whether it could also be used for other anxiety disorders and PTSD and within the next few years she will begin discussions with the NHS about running larger clinical trials in hospitals or at outpatient clinics.

Read the full article in The Guardian.

Read more about Dr Andrea Reinecke