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If you were to hear about a cheap, effective and non-pharmacological way to treat anxiety that didn't even require you to walk into a therapist's office, you'd say that sounded too good to be true. Meet Cognitive Bias Modification.

Anxiety disorders rob millions of Americans of the quality of life they deserve — and they're so common that almost a third of the US population will be affected at some point during their life, making anxiety disorders the most prevalent type of psychiatric disorder out there today. Not only can anxiety disorders be crippling to the individuals diagnosed with them, they also cost society in the form of disability payments, increased use of healthcare services, and lost working days.


Anxiety disorders are, in short, a serious problem. How do we deal with them? Medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) have been the two main treatment strategies. They do both come with significant benefits: anti-anxiety medications are quite effective, and CBT has proven benefits as well. Yet 40 percent of those who tried anti-anxiety medications — commonly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors/serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors — found they did not get sufficient relief from their symptoms. CBT, meanwhile, relies on exposure therapy that isn't suitable for every anxiety sufferer, and not everyone feels comfortable with walking into a therapist's office in the first place. There have got to be other alternatives, haven't there? 

CBM, Cognitive Bias Modification, is a technique that tackles anxiety and other disorders in a radically different way. What is Cognitive Bias Modification, and does it work?

What Is Cognitive Bias Modification All About?

Cognitive Bias Modification Therapy is a rather new field that has been explored over the last few years. Google it, and you'll find mostly professional literature as opposed to information for lay people, something that gives away just how recent of a development this form of treatment is. 

Yiend et al described CMB as follows in the journal Cognitive Therapy Research in 2013: "CBM treatments are more convenient and flexible than other modes of treatment because they do not require meetings with a therapist. They offer the potential for delivery using modern technologies (e.g. internet or mobile phone) and require minimal supervision. They could therefore become highly cost effective and widely accessible. CBM methods are also less demanding and more acceptable to patients than traditional therapies."

They went on to say that "this is because personal thoughts and beliefs are not directly interrogated, and there is no need for social interaction or stigmatizing visits to outpatient clinics. Similarly, patient insight is not required because CBM seeks to target the underlying maintaining cognitive bias directly; therefore, patient engagement is likely to be easier. In sum, CBM methods offer a high gain, low cost treatment option because they can circumvent many of the practical and psychological requirements that disadvantage competing psychological interventions."

Fascinating. Here we have a method that's said to be more convenient, less stigmatizing, and also inexpensive. It has been used in people suffering from depression, addictions, and to modify cognitive biases in people who aren't diagnosed with mental health issues as well as in anxiety sufferers. If this form of treatment is indeed as effective as advocates suggest, using the word "revolutionary" to describe CBM is entirely appropriate. 

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