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J Anxiety Disord. 2018 Apr;55:14-21. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2018.03.004. Epub 2018 Mar 9.

Rethinking avoidance: Toward a balanced approach to avoidance in treating anxiety disorders.

Author information

1
Boston University, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, 648 Beacon St., 6(th) Floor, Boston, MA, 02215, USA. Electronic address: shofmann@bu.edu.
2
Boston University, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, 648 Beacon St., 6(th) Floor, Boston, MA, 02215, USA.

Abstract

Avoidance is typically considered a maladaptive behavioral response to excessive fear and anxiety, leading to the maintenance of anxiety disorders. Exposure is a core element of cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders. One important aspect of this treatment is repeated and prolonged exposure to a threat while discouraging patients from using avoidance strategies, such as escape or safety behaviors. We will first revisit the role of avoidance learning in the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders, including important insights from the neuroscience literature. Next, we will consider both the negative and positive aspects of avoidance for therapeutic interventions. Finally, we will explore the application of adaptive avoidance in exposure therapy for anxiety disorders. We will argue that there are occasions when avoidance behaviors can serve as effective coping strategies to enhance the person's perception of control over the environment and the potential threat. We conclude that avoidance behaviors can be a valuable therapeutic element, depending on the function of these behaviors.

KEYWORDS:

Anxiety; Avoidance; Coping; Exposure; Fear; Therapy

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