Dallas CBT specializes in treatment for Health Anxiety (aka hypochondriasis, illness anxiety, or somatic symptom disorder) in children and adults. Our bodies are “noisy” and at times, unusual physical symptoms might raise concern about whether a medical condition is responsible. In health anxiety, or hypochondriasis, one can become preoccupied with internal sensations, such as a pain, stomach ache, or changes in heart rate, and assume that they are signs of serious illness despite medical reassurance. Harmless but uncomfortable bodily sensations can become alarming and stressful, causing fear that starts to dominate day-to-day living. Worrying about health can take on an obsessive quality and lead to monitoring of symptoms and multiple doctors visits, which themselves can become quite costly. Struggling with these concerns can lead to significant avoidance of activities, situations, and objects that might provoke certain physical sensations and anxiety about these symptoms.
Potential Signs of Health or Illness Anxiety
- Irrational and excessive concern that one has a serious illness
- Engaging in bodily “checking,” such as taking temperature, monitoring blood pressure or heart rate, and scanning the body for symptoms
- Preoccupation with bodily sensations
- Spending a large amount of time searching the internet for information on symptoms
- Multiple doctors visits
- Frequently seeking reassurance from others
- Avoiding objects (e.g., medical shows, articles) or situations (e.g., exercise, caffeine) that increase anxiety or are believed to make the condition worse
Cognitive behavioral treatment for health anxiety has shown to be effective and successful within a relatively short number of sessions. Our evidence-based treatment program for health anxiety involves cognitive-behavioral and exposure techniques. Treatment will generally consist of 12 to 20 sessions, although this varies dependent on each client’s needs.
Exposure therapy and other cognitive behavioral techniques are especially effective for treating health anxiety or hypochondriasis. These approaches involve reducing health-related obsessive thinking through cognitive restructuring, where one learns to challenge the validity of distorted thoughts, and gradual exposure to fearful thoughts, sensations, and situations. Through exposure, one learns that feared consequences are unlikely to come true and that anxiety decreases naturally over time and, after repeated exposure, will stay down. In vivo (real life) exposures, imaginal exposures, which involves imagining a feared situation, and interoceptive exposures, which involves confronting feared bodily sensations, play an important role in therapy. The overarching goal of this therapy is to reduce fear and distressing thoughts and decrease avoidance of objectively safe thoughts and situations. This treatment may cause short-term anxiety, given that you’ll be facing the fears that you have been avoiding; however, it is the most effective way to gain long-term freedom from anxiety.
Treatment is tailored to each individual, with their own experiences and specific concerns influencing each component of treatment. In therapy, you can expect to: better understand what causes and maintains health anxiety, learn to change unhelpful responses to anxiety-provoking thoughts, increase tolerance for uncertainty and/or physiological symptoms, and reduce the impact of feared health concerns through systematic exposure to anxiety-provoking thoughts, situations, and bodily sensations.