Putting panic to flight

An exciting new technique said to overcome anxiety disorders in just four days is now being spread to treatment centres throughout Norway and Sweden with support from the Kavli Trust.

Text: OCD team/Teresa Grøtan
Photos: OCD team

Severe anxiety or panic attacks can justifiably be called a disorder of the young. More than half of those affected during their lives develop the problems in their childhood or youth.

As a result, such conditions are one of the commonest reasons why young people drop out of education or work, and end up on disability benefit.

Psychologists Gerd Kvale and Bjarne Hansen at Bergen’s Haukeland University Hospital have developed a treatment which they claim can free patients from severe anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in just four days.

The Kavli Trust recently donated NOK 4.2 million to make the four-day treatment available for children and young people both nationally and internationally.

Gerd Kvale talks below about the main points of the project.

Help when it matters

– How is it possible to treat somebody in just four days?

Although the most typical approach is for patients to attend once a week to talk with a psychologist for 45 minutes, nothing says that this is the best way to provide treatment.

Today’s methods normally extend over several months, and a substantial proportion of the patients fail to complete the course or find it of limited benefit.

If you’re suffering from an anxiety disorder, you’ve become locked or trapped in an inappropriate way of handling painful and difficult feelings.

A key consideration if you’re going to break such a pattern is to obtain specific help in the circumstances when an attack happens – when things get most difficult.

Both the right technique and the amount of training are then crucial. Two of the four days in our format are allocated to training sessions.

Instead of allowing people to get discouraged when tackling such projects alone, as they usually do, we work closely with the patient so they quickly gain a good experience of the new way of dealing with painful feelings.

Training

– How will you be using the Kavli Trust’s grant?

– These funds will be devoted to training OCD teams in other health trusts and in Sweden. That calls for professionals who can lead groups and facilitate learning on the “master/apprentice” model as well as infrastructure.


In the next phase, the same teams will learn the four-day format for other anxiety disorders. We’ve already reached agreements with the OCD teams at Tromsø and Stavanger in Norway and Lund in Sweden.

– How does treatment of children and young people differ from the way you’ve already treated adults using this method?

– Parents and relatives are involved to a great extent with children and young people, and such patients are often confined to groups of two or three.

Otherwise, the principles are the same – although naturally tailored to the age level.

Wish list

– What significance has the Kavli Trust funding had for the OCD team and this project?

– Being able to offer the four-day treatment to children and young people has topped our wish list. That was quite simply impossible because no provision is made for such training and knowledge transfer across health trusts and countries.

Huge sums are saved for each child and young person treated by this method – not to mention the reduction in suffering for the individuals concerned.

The funds from the Kavli Trust will restore life and a future for hard-hit children and young people. That’s quite simply fantastic.

The four-day programme

Day 1: Three hours of teaching on anxiety disorders and training with the treatment principles. Review of the training assignments.

Day 2: About eight hours plus follow-up by text message/phone in the afternoon and evening. Mix of brief group meetings in the morning, lunch and afternoon, and tailored exposure exercises with a therapist.

Day 3: About seven hours plus a two-hour meeting with relatives. Same as above plus lectures/education for relatives.

Day 4: Experiences are summed up, and everyone produces a specific training and maintenance programme for the next three weeks. Once a week, patients send in the results of the daily exercises and report any changes.

Read more about the OCD team at Haukeland University Hospital (in Norwegian only).

Read the article Concentrated exposure and response prevention for adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder: An effectiveness study by Eili Nygard Riise. Solvei Harila, who is due to become a member of the project team, is co-author.