Effective Treatments for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Research Brief

Anxiety Sensitivity as a Predictor of Outcome in the Treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 2017


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that occurs when a person gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. The symptoms of OCD cause significant distress and interfere with daily activities. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) using exposure and response prevention (ERP) has been found to be an effective treatment for OCD. However, not all individuals who receive ERP for OCD show complete symptom reduction.


Anxiety Sensitivity (AS) is the fear of anxious arousal that results from mistaken beliefs about the dangerousness of anxiety-related body sensations. People with high Anxiety Sensitivity are over attentive to body sensations and misinterpret ambiguous body sensations as dangerous. This study hypothesized that Anxiety Sensitivity would be a predictor of CBT outcome in OCD.


The results of the study confirmed that CBT using ERP significantly reduced OCD symptoms in individuals with a primary diagnosis of OCD. Additionally, those with higher pre-treatment Anxiety Sensitivity had more OCD symptoms prior to treatment. Finally, those with higher baseline Anxiety Sensitivity had significantly higher post-treatment OCD symptoms even after controlling for pretreatment OCD and depression severity. 


These findings suggest that targeting the fear of anxious arousal (Anxiety Sensitivity) could enhance CBT treatment response in OCD patients. Assessing for Anxiety Sensitivity in OCD patients, and treating those with high Anxiety sensitivity with Interoceptive Exposure (a CBT method that teaches patients to tolerate anxiety-related body sensations) prior to starting CBT could improve treatment outcomes.



Highlights from the Study


“... AS was positively correlated with baseline OCD severity. This is in line with previous work and indicated that increased fear of arousal-related body sensations is associated with increased OCD symptom severity” (p. 116).


“Even after controlling for pretreatment OCD and depression severity (which did not significantly predict CBT treatment outcome in our sample), the construct of AS accounted for significant, incremental variance in posttreatment OCD severity” (p. 116).


“This suggests that the fear of anxious arousal in general predicts the outcome of CBT for OCD, and therefore represents a promising target for enhancing treatment response” (p. 116).


At Feeling Good Institute, we use a variety of evidence based treatment models in the treatment of OCD. Our therapists have hundreds of hours of training in proven effective therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to create strong, authentic connections with clients so they can make progress toward reducing OCD symptoms.


Learn about the essential skills for effective cognitive behavior therapy and how we set therapists up for success.

Citation: Blakey SM, Abramowitz JS, Reuman L, Leonard RC, Riemann BC. Anxiety sensitivity as a predictor of outcome in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2017 Dec;57:113-117. doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2017.05.003. Epub 2017 May 6. PMID: 28505489.

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