Anxiety disorders can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a new study says. Researchers say that common phobias can best be treated with CBT and a trans-diagnostic approach.

According to the researchers it is better to have one set of principles that therapists can use to treat various disorders like fear of flying or social phobias. Instead of treating conditions separately, a unified approach can be used to achieve better results making other related disorders easier to treat.

CBT is a single set of rules and guidelines for treatment across all disorders. There are goals and timeframes as well and the goal of CBT is to help patients understand the source of their anxiety.

"What I have learned from my past research is that if you treat your principal diagnosis, such as social phobia and you hate public speaking, you are going to show improvement on some of your secondary diagnosis. Your mood is going to get a little better; your fear of heights might dissipate," said Peter Norton, associate professor in clinical psychology and director of the Anxiety Disorder Clinic at the University of Houston (UH).

Previous research has shown that trans-diagnostic CBT can treat people with any form of eating disorder.

"What I realized is that I could open a group to people with anxiety disorders in general and develop a treatment program regardless of the artificial distinctions between social phobia and panic disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, and focus on the core underlying things that are going wrong," said Norton.

Norton says that the trans-diagnostic approach "is more efficient in treating the whole person rather than just treating the diagnosis, then treating the next diagnoses."

The problem with DSM

"The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has been an important breakthrough in understanding mental health, but people are dissatisfied with its fine level of differentiation," said Norton.

Refining each disorder and describing treatment for each is good but this really hasn't helped in treating disorders.

"Panic disorders are considered something different from social phobia, which is considered something different from PTSD. The hope was that by getting refined in the diagnosis we could target interventions for each of these diagnoses, but in reality that just hasn't played out," Norton says.