BACKGROUND: Contemporary models of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for social anxiety disorder (SAD) emphasize emotion dysregulation as a core impairment whose reduction may play a causal role in psychotherapy. The current study examined changes in use of emotion regulation strategies as possible mechanisms of change in CBT for SAD. Specifically, we examined changes in expressive suppression and cognitive reappraisal during CBT and whether these changes predict treatment outcome.
METHODS: Patients (n = 34; 13 females; Mean age = 28.36 (6.97)) were allocated to 16-20 sessions of CBT. An electrocortical measure of emotion regulation and a clinician-rated measure of SAD were administered monthly. Self-report measures of emotion regulation and social anxiety were administered weekly. Multilevel models were used to examine changes in emotion regulation during treatment and cross-lagged associations between emotion regulation and anxiety.
RESULTS: CBT led to decreased suppression frequency, increased reappraisal self-efficacy, and decreased unpleasantness for SAD-related pictures (ps < .05). At post-treatment, patients were equivalent to healthy controls in terms of suppression frequency and subjective reactivity to SAD-related stimuli. Gains were maintained at 3-months follow-up. Decreases in suppression frequency and electrocortical reactivity to SAD-related pictures predicted lower subsequent anxiety but not the other way around (ps < .05). Lower anxiety predicted greater subsequent increases in reappraisal self-efficacy.
LIMITATIONS: The lack of a control group precludes conclusions regarding mechanisms specificity.
CONCLUSIONS: Decreased frequency of suppression is a potential mechanism of change in CBT for SAD.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Cognitive Reappraisal
- Emotion Regulation
- Expressive Suppression
- Social Anxiety