Reflections from ABCT 2017
By: Cheri A. Levinson, Ph.D.
The EAT lab (pictured to the right) just returned from ABCT 2017 in San Diego, California. To say that this conference was inspiring would be an understatement. I think the entire lab left the conference feeling renewed and excited about all of the immerging research both within the eating disorder field and in clinical psychology as a whole. Here are a few highlights from our trip.
Exposure in eating disorders. There was not one, but *two* symposiums focused on using exposure therapy to treat eating disorders. Given this area has been my passion for more than half of my career (which admittedly has not been that long yet), I am excited to see not only more work on the topic, but a growing interest and excitement within the eating disorder field. There were two talks that especially stood out to me on the impact they can bring to the field. First, Nick Farrell (from Rogers) presented work from his partial hospital program showing how exposure and response prevention can be integrated into a partial program. Second, Jamal Essayli (from Penn State Hershey) began to answer the question ‘Can we use exposure therapy during refeeding?’ The answer seems to be a resounding yes. Food exposure does not cause harm and in fact decreases anxiety around food during refeeding. Some research has proposed that we need to wait to use food expose with eating disorder patients until they are weight restored (e.g., instead of getting them to eat while distracting etc), since exposing them to food does in fact lead to their feared concern of weight gain. This research suggests that no, programs should go ahead and start using exposure even when patients are underweight.
Personalizing Treatment. I was lucky to be part of a fantastic symposium including Aaron Fisher (Berkley), Eiko Fried (U Amsterdam), Anne Roefs (Maastricht U), Sarah Jo David (Texas Tech), and Rich McNally (Harvard) that focused on using network analysis to personalize treatment. We got to hear about how network analysis is being used to lead to personalized treatment of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and obesity. We also got to learn a bit about how we might use machine-learning to predict behaviors such as smoking. The main take away from this symposium, in my mind, is that technology is taking us to new places where we don’t have to rely on averages and can use data to make each treatment plan the best possible for each person.
Graduated Exposure versus Using a Hierarchy. Work from Ryan Jacoby at Mass General suggests that we don’t necessarily need to use an exposure hierarchy to treat OCD/anxiety. Instead, we can randomly choose exposures (regardless of difficulty level) and that this method may in fact maximize intolerance of uncertainty and produce better change (and surprisingly less drop out!).
Push for Open Science. One of the undertones of the conference was a push for Open Science. I have to give credit to Aaron Fisher for his plea during the personalized network symposium encouraging researchers to share their data. The message that I took away is that the more we collaborate and are open about our science, the more likely we are to really help people.
Overall, I felt inspired by the amount of collaboration and willingness of our colleagues to be open and work toward creating science that can have real impact. Thanks ABCT for another great conference- already looking forward to next year!