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Understanding Health Anxiety

Guide

Our ‘Understanding…’ series is a collection of psychoeducation guides for common mental health conditions. Friendly and explanatory, they are comprehensive sources of information for your clients. Concepts are explained in an easily digestible way, with plenty of case examples and accessible diagrams. Understanding Health Anxiety is designed to help clients with health anxiety to understand more about their condition.

Understanding Health Anxiety Understanding Health Anxiety

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Guide

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Description

A little bit of concern about your health is normal, and even healthy! If you have health anxiety, worries about your health can take over your life and cause you a lot of distress. It is thought that between 1 and 10 people out of every 100 will experience health anxiety every year. Fortunately, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) are both effective psychological treatments for health anxiety.

The Understanding Health Anxiety guide is designed to help clients with health anxiety to understand more about their condition. As well as a clear description of symptoms and treatments, the guide explores key maintenance factors for health anxiety including:

  • Interpreting triggers as a threat.
  • Being on the lookout and checking for symptoms.
  • Intrusive images about illness and death.
  • Safety behaviors and avoidance.

Instructions

Our ‘Understanding…’ series is designed to support your clients:

  • Scaffold knowledge. The guides are perfect during early stages of therapy to help your clients understand how their symptoms fit together and make sense.
  • Reassure and encourage optimism. Many clients find it hugely reassuring to know there is a name for what they are experiencing, and that there are evidence-based psychological models and treatments specifically designed to help.
  • De-mystify the therapy process. To increase your client’s knowledge of the therapy process and the ingredients that it is likely to involve. If you can help your clients to understand why an intervention is important (think exposure!) it can help encourage them to engage.
  • Signposting. If you’re just seeing a client briefly for assessment, or you have a curious client who wants to know more, these resources can be a helpful part of guiding them to the right service.
  • Waiting time not wasted time. When you’ve assessed someone but their treatment can’t begin right away, psychoeducation can help them learn about how therapy can help while they’re waiting.

Each guide includes:

  • Case examples to help your clients relate to the condition, and to normalize their experiences.
  • Jargon-free descriptions of symptoms, and descriptions of how they might affect your thoughts, feelings, and actions.
  • A symptom questionnaire for screening assessment.
  • An accessible cognitive-behavioral account of what keeps the problem going, or what stops it from getting better.
  • A description of evidence-based treatments for that condition, including an overview of the ‘ingredients’ of a good cognitive behavioral approach.

References

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.
  • Cooper, K., Gregory, J. D., Walker, I., Lambe, S., & Salkovskis, P. M. (2017). Cognitive behaviour therapy for health anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 45(2), 110-123.
  • Eilenberg, T., Fink, P., Jensen, J. S., Rief, W., & Frostholm, L. (2016). Acceptance and commitment group therapy (ACT-G) for health anxiety: a randomized controlled trial. Psychological Medicine, 46(1), 103-115.
  • Muse, K., McManus, F., Hackmann, A., Williams, M., & Williams, M. (2010). Intrusive imagery in severe health anxiety: Prevalence, nature and links with memories and maintenance cycles. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 48(8), 792-798.
  • Taylor, S., Asmundson, G. J. (2004). Treating health anxiety: A cognitive-behavioral approach. Guilford Press.
  • Taylor, S., Asmundson, G. J., & Coons, M. J. (2005). Current directions in the treatment of hypochondriasis. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 19(3), 285.