Patient and therapist experiences of exposure therapy for anxiety-related disorders in pregnancy: qualitative analysis of a feasibility trial of intensive versus weekly CBT

Fiona L. Challacombe*, Katherine Sabin, Samantha Jacobson, Rose Tinch-Taylor, Laura Potts, Ben Carter, Vanessa Lawrence

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Background Approximately 15% of pregnant women experience anxiety disorders. Effective treatments exist but their acceptability during pregnancy, particularly exposure therapy, is not known. Aims To understand patient and therapist experiences of time-intensive and weekly exposure-based therapy for anxiety disorders delivered during pregnancy. Trial registration: ISRCTN81203286. Method In-depth interviews were conducted with patients and therapists who had taken part in a feasibility trial of predominantly online time-intensive versus weekly cognitive-behavioural therapy in pregnancy in a primary care setting in the UK. Data were analysed using reflexive thematic analysis. Results In total, 45 women participating in the trial and 6 therapists who had delivered the treatments were interviewed. Five themes were developed from the data that showed convergence from therapist and patient perspectives: 'Acquiring tools to navigate the perinatal period'; 'Motivated yet constrained by pregnancy'; 'Having the confidence to face fears and tolerate uncertainty'; 'Momentum with the need for flexibility'; 'Being removed from the face-to-face world'. Conclusions Exposure therapy is acceptable and helpful in pregnancy and can lead to lasting gains. Exposure is a key element of treatment and needs to be confidently conducted by therapists with perinatal knowledge and expertise. Treatments need to consider the unfolding context of pregnancy. The momentum of intensive therapy can lead to rapid improvements, but is demanding for both patients and therapists, especially fitting round other commitments. Online treatments can work well and are a good fit for perinatal women, but this needs to be balanced with the need for social connection, suggesting a hybrid model is the ideal.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere189
JournalBJPsych Open
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2023


  • Anxiety disorders
  • cognitive-behavioural therapy
  • exposure therapy
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • pregnancy

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