Dr. Andre Pittig
'Optimizing exposure by targeting mechanisms of change'
Exposure therapy is the first-line psychological treatment for anxiety and related disorders. Although consistent findings demonstrate a high efficacy of exposure therapy on the group level, there is considerable individual variability: While some treated individuals fully benefit in the long-run other do not, some individuals show relapse after short-term success, while some individuals show fast responses as early as after 4 sessions. It thus remains unclear who will benefit at what pace. Identifying and targeting core mechanisms of change underlying exposure exercises may help to optimize treatment outcome and individualized psychotherapy. This talk will focus on findings and clinical application for two important mechanisms of change: Extinction learning and the reduction of pathological avoidance and safety behaviors. For extinction learning, this talk will focus on the role of exposure-induced violation of threat expectancies, i.e., the experience of a mismatch of what is patients expect to occur during exposure and what actually occurs. In addition, strategies to reduce avoidance and safety behaviors to initiate this experience will be presented.
Andre Pittig currently works as the head of a early career research group at the Department of Psychology at the University of Würzburg, Germany. His lab is centered in the intersection of experimental and clinical psychology and psychotherapy with a research focus on emotional decision conflicts, approach-avoidance behaviors, their bio-behavioral mechanisms, and their relevance for the development, maintenance, and exposure-based treatment of anxiety and related disorders. He has coordinated multiple clinical studies and randomized controlled trials on exposure-based treatment of anxiety disorders (in Dresden and Los Angeles, USA). He is also a licensed psychotherapist for behavioral psychotherapy and worked as psychotherapist in in-patient and out-patient settings.