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Chronic life stress and treatment outcome in agoraphobia with panic attacks
Am J Psychiatry 1993;150:1491-1495.
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OBJECTIVE: Factors associated with response to treatment for agoraphobia are as of yet poorly understood. The authors investigated the relationship between chronic forms of life stress and clinical improvement and recovery in subjects with agoraphobia. METHOD: Subjects meeting the DSM-III criteria for agoraphobia with panic attacks (N = 73) completed measures of life stress, agoraphobic symptoms, and depressive symptoms at the initiation and completion of the 12-week treatment protocol. Chronic stressors were assessed during intensive structured interviews 3-5 years after the completion of treatment and were rated by using a reliable, and previously validated, contextual rating system. The contextual life stress interview was completed by 54 subjects. The relationship of chronic forms of stress to treatment response was assessed by comparing symptomatic improvement in the subjects who had and had not experienced chronic stressors. RESULTS: Of the 54 subjects, 23 (43%) reported chronic stressors of marked or moderate severity. Subjects experiencing chronic stressors evidenced less improvement after treatment on both self-report and objective indexes of agoraphobic symptoms. Additionally, more subjects identified as nonrecovered experienced chronic stressors than did recovered subjects. CONCLUSIONS: Chronic stressors appear to predict a relatively unfavorable treatment outcome, as defined by higher levels of symptoms after treatment, less improvement, and less likelihood of recovery. These results have important implications for enhancing psychotherapeutic outcomes.

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