Affect Phobia Therapy for Mild to Moderate Alcohol Use Disorder: The Cases of "Carey," "Michelle," and "Mary"
Keywords:Affect Focused Therapy, Short-Term Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, Affect Phobia, emotional avoidance, emotional regulation self-compassion, self-criticism, alcohol dependence, case studies, clinical case studies
Affect Phobia Treatment (APT) is based on an integrative theory involving the use of psychodynamic principles for understanding a client’s psychological dynamics, experiential principles for engaging and working with the client’s affect, and behavioral principles of exposure and response prevention for desensitizing the client to the fear of affect. APT’s goal is "to help patients function better by resolving emotional conflict through reducing their avoidance of adaptive, activating emotions" (Osborn et al., 2014). APT has not yet been systematically employed and researched for patients with mild to moderate Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) together with affect phobia. The present study was designed to begin this process by describing and comparing, both qualitatively and quantitatively, three illustrative, distinctive cases of APT in patients with AUD, assigned the names of "Carey," "Michelle," and "Mary." The focus was on exploring the process by which the different individual patients responded to the multifaceted APT therapy, and hence how the therapist had to adapt the therapy to each particular patient, as outlined in Stiles’ (2009) concept of "appropriate responsiveness." Following the manual for APT, therapy included 10 weekly sessions of individual psychotherapy. This short length for a therapy like APT, a treatment which usually has no determined session length (McCullough et al., 2003), was designed to make the therapy comparable in length to other therapies for AUD, like Motivational Interviewing. During the whole study period, patients gave weekly reports of their alcohol consumption and craving. In addition, at the beginning and at the end of the study, the patients answered questionnaires measuring affect phobia and psychiatric symptoms. Role expectations and experiences of psychotherapy were also measured. All three patients completed the treatment and the measurement period. No adverse events were reported. The patients had different trajectories of change regarding alcohol consumption, craving, and symptom change. The study showed that 10-session APT was a tolerable treatment for the patients with on-going mild-to-moderate alcohol dependence, who primarily used alcohol as a way of avoiding emotions, but that the therapy worked to different degrees and in different ways for the three patients due to their different presenting patterns of psychiatric symptoms and personality characteristics. Experience in the three cases suggests the advisability of (a) flexible treatment length in accordance to a patient's needs, and (b) complementary treatment strategies beyond APT focusing on reducing alcohol consumption per se for some patients.
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