Behavioral Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Perry Nicassio, Principal Investigator
Behavioral interventions for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have had a salutary impact on patients’ ability to manage difficult symptoms and other demands of this medical condition. Yet, the effects of behavioral treatments for RA on underlying disease activity and mood disturbance are largely undetermined. The proposed project compares cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), Tai Chi Chih (TCC), a form of movement-based meditation, and education control (EC) on measures of psychological adaptation (e.g., helplessness, coping), mood disturbance, sleep quality, pro-inflammatory cytokines, and RA disease severity. An important feature of the CBT intervention is that it incorporates strategies to enhance mood and diminish depressive symptoms. TCC has recently shown promise as an effective intervention in increasing physical activity and health functioning in older adults. Because of its emphasis on relaxation and exercise, TCC offers an interesting theoretical contrast to CBT. Two Ph.D. level psychologists will administer the CBT and EC interventions, while a highly experienced TCC instructor will administer the TCC protocol. A total of 210 RA patients will be randomly assigned after a pre-treatment evaluation to one of the three interventions and will be assessed again at Week 8 of treatment, at post-treatment (Weeks 16-17), 8-month follow-up, and 1-year follow-up. A primary objective of the study will be to compare the clinical efficacy of CBT and TCC against EC. CBT and TCC are expected to contribute to significantly greater improvement in psychosocial functioning and RA disease severity than EC. CBT, in turn, is hypothesized to lead to greater improvement than TCC on clinical endpoints because it teaches a variety of skills that patients can use to manage RA. This study will also explore the mechanisms through which CBT and TCC promote improvement in RA disease severity. We anticipate, for example, that improvement in RA disease severity resulting from CBT and TCC will be mediated by reductions in pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-1, TNF, IL-6).