Treating Childhood Anxiety With Computers, Not Drugs

Treating Childhood Anxiety With ComputersAccording to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, one in eight children suffers from an anxiety disorder. And because many anxious children turn into severely anxious adults, early intervention can have a major impact on a patient’s life trajectory. The understandable reluctance to use psychiatric medications when it comes to children means child psychologists are always searching for viable therapeutic alternatives.

Now Prof. Yair Bar-Haim of Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Sciences and his fellow researchers are pursuing a new method to address childhood anxiety. Based on a computer program, the treatment uses a technique called Attention Bias Modification (ABM) to reduce anxiety by drawing children away from their tendency to dwell on potential threats, ultimately changing their thought patterns. In its initial clinical trial, the program was as effective as medication and cognitive therapy for children — with several distinct advantages.

The results of the trial were reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Computers instead of capsules

Full story of treating childhood anxiety at Science Daily

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What is histrionic personality disorder?

Histrionic Personality DisorderThe trial of  Jerry Sandusky has begun. Prosecutors accuse the former Penn State assistant football coach of abusing at least 10 boys, allegations that have become widely known.

What may be less familiar is a mental illness his lawyers are connecting with him: Histrionic personality disorder.  The defense attorneys say they intend to offer expert testimony from a psychologist who "will explain that the words, tones, requests and statements made in the letters are consistent with a person who suffers from a Histrionic Personality Disorder," according to documents.

Histrionic personality disorder is part of a class of conditions called dramatic personality disorders, which are marked by unstable emotions and distorted self-images, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

For these people, self-esteem doesn’t come from true feelings of self worth, but rather from the approval from other people, and those suffering from this disorder will often engage in dramatic or inappropriate behaviors to call attention to themselves.

Full story of histrionic personality disorder at CNN Health

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Phone therapy helps with depression, study says

Phone Therapy Helps DepressionReceiving psychotherapy over the phone is showing promise for people with depression, according to new research. A study published Tuesday found patients counseled over the phone were less likely to drop out of treatment compared to those who got face-to face counseling.  Researchers also found people who talked to their therapist on the phone got better at the same rate as those who spent time on the counselor’s couch.

"This research gives us a pretty clear indication that providing therapy via technology can be a useful strategy," says Lynn Bufka, assistant executive director, practice research and policy at the American Psychological Association.

Researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago conducted the study which was the first large trial comparing face-to-face therapy with telephone therapy. Their findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In this study, 325 people with major depressive disorder received 18 sessions of one of the two types of therapy. The scientists found that more people dropped out of treatment, usually in the first five weeks, when they went to see their therapist instead of talking on the phone.

Full story of phone therapy for depression at CNN Health

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Finally, a treatment for that buzzing in your ears

Treatment For Buzzing EarsImagine the incessant, grating sound of buzzing in your ears – or constant beeping, whistling, dripping, or clicking.  Imagine the chatter of crickets or birds resonating in your head all day long.

Then realize that there are no actual birds or crickets. No dripping faucet. No clicking or whistling happening in the vicinity.

That is a small glimpse of life with tinnitus:  The perception of sound, that doesn’t exist, manufactured by the brain. 

"I hear tree frogs and crickets and bugs, and really loud noise on top of that," said Ginny Morrell, 60, who has suffered with tinnitus for two years. "It started one day and never went away. It never wavers, 24 hours a day."
Morrell says she fills her life with sound – a radio during the day, a television droning in the background while she sleeps – as a way to drown out the din.  It’s a distraction that sometimes works.

"It’s not going to kill me, it’s not cancer," said Morrell.  "But it might drive me crazy."

But according to a new study, the most effective treatment for Morrell’s tinnitus may involve just the opposite of what she’s currently doing: Rather than ignoring the sound, focus on it.

Full story of ear buzzing at CNN Health

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Learn something new – your brain will thank you

Train Your Brain Something NewThe idea that learning a new skill – say juggling, cooking, or playing guitar – can be like an addiction is no joke.

I should know. As a college professor/scientist, who has written about the dynamics of narcotics and self-control, I have spent the last 3 1/2 years all but addicted to learning to play guitar. Despite lacking anything that might remotely resemble musical talent, I find no day is complete without at least a little bit of time on the guitar.

Even listening to music can be a little like a drug. A brain imaging study that came out last year proved what many scientists long suspected: Listening to music can lead the brain to release the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is the brain’s universal signal for pleasure, an internal system that tells the brain (sometimes rightly, sometime wrongly) that it is doing the right thing.

Drugs elicit dopamine artificially by fooling the brain, while activities like sex and eating elicit dopamine naturally. Listening to music taps into the dopamine system in part because hearing something new is a signal that the brain is learning something, and we have evolved to enjoy acquiring new information.

Full story of brain feeding at CNN Health

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