Anxiety and fear are widely experienced phenomena, and among the most common symptoms of psychological problems. Dr. Jonathan Abramowitz’s Anxiety and Stress Lab focuses broadly on the nature and treatment of anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The lab conducts studies to determine risk factors associated with these conditions, as well as the factors that contribute to the persistence of these problems over the long-term. Dr. Abramowitz and his team’s research also addresses ways to optimize the treatment of clinical anxiety and OCD and applies a cognitive-behavioral framework in our theoretical, research, and clinical work.
One broad area of research concerns the cognitive, affective, and behavioral factors that contribute to the development and maintenance of anxiety and OCD. For example, recent (and ongoing) studies address questions such as: what role do early life experiences, major life stressors (e.g., childbirth, head injury), and other factors (e.g., race) play in the development and presentation of these clinical conditions? By augmenting understanding of the processes that contribute to and maintain anxiety disorders, researchers can better identify factors that make one vulnerable to experiencing these conditions, and support the development of better treatments. Recently, the Anxiety and Stress Lab has published new findings regarding the contributions of different types of cognitive biases (thinking errors) to different presentations of of OCD (e.g., contamination fears, thoughts of harming others),and to health anxiety. Dr. Abramowitz and his lab are also examining the role of sleep disturbance in OCD and anxiety, as well as the relationship between attributional biases and symptoms.
A second broad area of research focuses on treatments for anxiety and OCD. Cognitive-behavioral approaches such as cognitive therapy and exposure with response prevention are very effective; although not everyone improves and our knowledge of which treatments will work best for which individuals remains limited. The lab has examined ways to improve the treatment of OCD, such as by involving a partner/spouse and be introducing acceptance-based interventions into treatment. Dr. Abramowitz is also invested in better understanding why cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) works, and for whom they will work best, as well as how to make effective treatments more accessible. Within this area of work, the Anxiety and Stress Lab has several ongoing projects. For example, the lab is working with PsyInnovations to evaluate the effectiveness of a smartphone-based application in treating social anxiety. Additionally, the team is conducting a randomized controlled trial of CBT for spider phobia to better understand the mechanisms of exposure therapy. Dr. Abramowitz and researchers in the laboratory hope that identifying the most important components of therapy will help to optimize treatment and improve accessibility across diverse populations.
Dr. Jonathan Abramowitz is a Professor in the Clinical Psychology Program in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and Director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Clinic at UNC Chapel Hill. He is also a licensed Clinical Psychologist in the state of North Carolina. Over the last 20 years, Dr. Abramowitz has led numerous studies to help better understand and treat clinical anxiety and OCD. He serves as the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders and was President of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies from 2014-2015. He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses at UNC Chapel Hill and supervises graduate students in their clinical and research work. Dr. Abramowitz has an active research lab and currently mentors two graduate students: Jennifer Buchholz, M.A., and Samantha Hellberg, B.A., with two additional students currently completing their predoctoral internship: Shannon Blakely, M.S., and Lillian Reuman, M.A. He also has numerous undergraduate volunteers who dedicate their time and effort to assisting with the lab’s research.