Heart rate variability profiles and exposure therapy treatment outcome in flight phobia.

Heart rate variability profiles and exposure therapy treatment outcome in flight phobia.
Xavier Bornas, Antonio Riera Del Amo, Miquel Tortella-Feliu, Jordi Llabrés
University of the Balearic Islands, University Research Institute on Health Sciences (IUNICS), Palma, Spain, .
Journal Article: Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (impact factor: 1.77). 12/2011; 37(1):53-62. DOI: 10.1007/s10484-011-9179-5

The goal of this study was to explore why certain patients in a previous study on exposure therapy for flight phobia did not experience an improvement in their conditions. Participants from a treatment study (N = 45) were selected according to post-treatment results and divided into two groups: the unsatisfactory treatment outcome group (UTO, N = 10) and the satisfactory treatment outcome group (STO, N = 10). The differences between these two groups prior to receiving exposure therapy were analyzed at the behavioral, physiological, and cognitive levels. The UTO participants had been avoiding flying longer than the STO phobics. Following Thayer and Lane’s neurovisceral model of emotion regulation, heart rate variability was analyzed at two levels: tonic and phasic. Low frequency and high frequency (HF) power were calculated in the frequency domain and Sample Entropy was computed in the time domain. The tonic HF power of the UTO group was higher than the STO group’s tonic HF power. In the phasic level, while the STO group’s HF power decreased under exposure and subsequently returned to baseline level, the UTO group demonstrated a more rigid pattern. Finally, the STO group reported higher emotional involvement than the UTO group when they were shown a sample of the therapy. Based on these results, the challenge of matching exposure therapy to each patient’s profile is discussed.

Slope of change throughout exposure treatment for flight phobia: the role of autonomic flexibility

Bornas, X., Gelabert, J. M., Llabres, J., Balle, M., & Tortella-Feliu, M. (2011). Slope of change throughout exposure treatment for flight phobia: the role of autonomic flexibility. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67(6), 550-560. doi:10.1002/jclp.20780; 10.1002/jclp.20780

This study tested the hypothesis that flight-phobic patients experience change at different rates even when they are receiving identical treatment. Faster within-session rates of change (WSRC) were expected for patients who required fewer exposure sessions. The study also tested the theoretical role of autonomic flexibility on WSRC. High flexibility should be associated with faster rates of change. Thirty-seven flight-phobic patients were successfully treated with a computer-assisted fear of flying treatment. A significant negative correlation was found between total number of sessions and WSRC: The fewer sessions patients attended, the faster their rate of change was. The role of autonomic flexibility was partially supported: A significant correlation between heart rate variability and WSRC revealed that flexible patients improved faster than less-flexible patients. (c) 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Clin Psychol 67:1-11, 2011.

Virtual reality versus computer-aided exposure treatments for fear of flying

Tortella-Feliu, M., Botella, C., Llabres, J., Breton-Lopez, J. M., del Amo, A. R., Banos, R. M., & Gelabert, J. M. (2011). Virtual reality versus computer-aided exposure treatments for fear of flying. Behavior Modification, 35(1), 3-30. doi:10.1177/0145445510390801

Evidence is growing that two modalities of computer-based exposure therapies–virtual reality and computer-aided psychotherapy–are effective in treating anxiety disorders, including fear of flying. However, they have not yet been directly compared. The aim of this study was to analyze the efficacy of three computer-based exposure treatments for fear of flying: virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET), computer-aided exposure with a therapist’s (CAE-T) assistance throughout exposure sessions, and self-administered computer-aided exposure (CAE-SA). A total of 60 participants with flying phobia were randomly assigned to VRET, CAE-T, or CAE-SA. Results indicate that the three interventions were effective in reducing fear of flying at posttreatment and at 1-year follow-up; furthermore, there were no significant differences between them in any of the outcome measure. Large within-group effect sizes were found for all three treatment conditions at both posttreatment and at follow-up. The results suggest that therapist involvement might be minimized during computer-based treatments and that CAE can be as effective as VRET in reducing fear of flying.