Research using a novel psychological therapy finds that addressing emotional experiences related to trauma and conflict may be helpful for people fibromyalgia, as compared to cognitive behavioral therapy or educational intervention.
The study was led by Mark A. Lumley, Ph.D., distinguished professor of psychology at Wayne State University, David A. Williams, Ph.D., professor of anesthesiology at the University of Michigan Medical Center, and published in the journal PAIN.
In the randomized clinical trial, 230 adults with fibromyalgia received one of three treatments, for eight weekly sessions to small groups of patients. The new therapy is called Emotional Awareness and Expression Therapy (EAET), and was co-developed by Howard Schubiner, M.D., director of the Mind Body Medicine Program at Providence Hospital. They say the therapy helps patients view their pain and other symptoms by changing the neural pathways in the brain that are influenced by emotions.
“EAET helps patients process emotional experiences, such as disclosing important struggles, learning how to adaptively express important feelings — especially anger and sadness but also gratitude, compassion, and forgiveness — and empowering people to be more honest and direct in relationships that have been conflicted or problematic,” the office for the vice president at Wayne State University wrote in an announcement.
In the clinical trial, the EAET intervention was compared to both an educational intervention, as well as, cognitive behavioral therapy (the gold standard psychological approach in the field). Six months after treatments ended, patients were evaluated for the severity and extent of their pain and other problems that people with fibromyalgia often experience.
Patients who received EAET had better outcomes compared to education intervention. They had reduced widespread pain, physical impairment, attention and concentration problems, anxiety, and depression and more positive emotions and life. More than twice as many people in EAET (34.8 percent) reported that they were “much better” or “very much better” than before treatment, compared to 15.4 percent of education patients.
Those who received EAET therapy also had greater benefits than those who received cognitive behavior therapy in reducing widespread pain, and in the number of patients who achieved at least 50 percent pain reduction.
“Many people with fibromyalgia have experienced adversity in their lives, including victimization, family problems and internal conflicts, all of which create important emotions that are often suppressed or avoided. Emerging neuroscience research suggests that this can contribute strongly to pain and other physical symptoms,” Lumley said. “We developed and tested an approach that tries to help people overcome these emotional and relationship problems and reduce their symptoms, rather than just help people manage or accept their fibromyalgia. Although this treatment does not help all people with fibromyalgia, many patients found it to be very helpful, and some had dramatic improvements in their lives and their health.”