Transdiagnostic Therapy: How Can it Help?

· March 4, 2019
A one-size-fits-all therapy approach isn't the best course of action. Transdiagnostic therapy is a more tailored, effective strategy that can yield better results.

A while back, one of my college professors told me that a good psychologist is familiar with all the different empirically-proven therapies and knows how to combine them to tailor appropriate treatments for each person. In short, he said that psychologists should be alchemists. Thus, we have to find the perfect mix for each patient. That is exactly what transdiagnostic therapy aims to do.

Thanks to that teacher, I understood that it’s more effective to treat the roots of psychological problems instead of just putting out fires all the time. If you only treat the most superficial problems, the solutions will be short-term. If you treat the root cause, you’re more likely to succeed and prevent relapses. This is the idea behind transdiagnostic therapy. Read on to discover more about it and why it’s an effective strategy.

“The great discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.”

-William James-

The problem with standardized treatment

People are aware that emotional disorders are quite common. In fact, they’re one of the most common types of mental disorders. You probably know someone with anxiety or depression or maybe you’re suffering from them yourself. Consequently, you might know how much they can interfere with your life.

A guy with his psychologist.

That’s why it’s so important to find a good psychologist who can help you get your life back. Not all psychologists are created equal. Most of them don’t follow my teacher’s advice to personalize their client’s mental health treatment plans and, instead, stick to the treatment specified for the diagnosis in question.

There are specific, standardized programs for every psychological pathology. These treatment plans tell the therapist what to do when patients are suffering from a particular disorder. The problem is that two people with the same condition may not benefit from the same kind of therapy.

What is the goal of transdiagnostic therapy?

I’m not trying to say that psychologists should ignore treatment recommendations. It’s important to keep in mind what scientific literature says about the best way to treat different psychological issues. However, you also have to find that perfect mix of strategies to treat an individual.

Transdiagnostic therapy goes far beyond a diagnostic label. Instead of using a cookie-cutter approach to treatment, it addresses the root “causes” of the issue so you can assure your patient’s long-term well-being.

“Control the manner in which a man interprets his world, and you have gone a long way toward controlling his behavior.”

-Stanley Milgram-

Instead of treating the specific symptoms of each pathology, transdiagnostic therapy suggests working on the common factors that lead to the development of psychological problems.

Emotional regulation in transdiagnostic therapy

Emotional regulation is the set of strategies that you use to influence or modify your emotional experiences. In other words, they are the tools you use to maintain, boost, or suppress particular emotional states. So what are the least effective emotional regulation strategies of people with emotional disorders? Rumination, suppression, and avoidance.

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

-Abraham Maslow-

People with emotional disorders use maladaptive strategies to manage their emotions. It’s important to work on these strategies in therapy. That way, the patient can return to a state of emotional well-being. This goes hand in hand with cognitive behavioral therapy.

Therapists who use transdiagnostic therapy also re-evaluate their patients’ negative interpretations of situations and modify maladaptive behaviors. Thus, transdiagnostic therapy tries to discover the cognitive and emotional processes that influence their mood. What’s more, they teach them to change those processes.

The main goal is to help patients learn to face and experience uncomfortable emotions and respond to them in a healthier way. The point is to reduce the frequency and emotional intensity. This therapy doesn’t seek to eliminate uncomfortable emotions. Instead, the goal is to get them to a functional level so they can be adaptive, useful, and help you become a better person.

Images courtesy of Nik Shuliahin, Annie Spratt, and Radu Florin.