Cognitive behavioral therapy for management of dyspnea: A pilot study

Marie T. Williams, Paul Cafarella, Catherine Paquet, Peter Frith

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    11 Citations (Scopus)


    BACKGROUND: In patients with COPD, psychological interventions usually target generalized anxiety and depression rather than the sensation of breathlessness. The objectives of this pilot study were to develop and implement a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program specific to the perceptual experience of breathlessness, identify practical issues in the study protocol, and estimate beneficial effects of combining the CBT program with comprehensive pulmonary rehabilitation. METHODS: The CBT program for the sensation of breathlessness (Breathing: Recognize sensations, Explore thoughts and beliefs, Validate thoughts as useful or harmful, Evolve and change behavior [BREVE]) was developed as a sequential series of 8 modules enabling it to be embedded within an 8-week comprehensive pulmonary rehabilitation program. When appropriate, outcomes from the pilot group (comprehensive pulmonary rehabilitation program + BREVE) were compared with those from a retrospective control group (comprehensive pulmonary rehabilitation program only). Outcomes included feedback provided by pilot study subjects, sensation of breathlessness (volunteered and endorsed descriptors of breathlessness), 6-min walk distance (6MWD), and St George Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ) total score. Within-group analyses were undertaken for descriptors of breathlessness (the McNemar test), whereas between-group analyses (repeated- measures analysis of variance, effect-size comparison) were conducted for the 6MWD and SGRQ total score. RESULTS: Pilot (n = 11) and control (n = 58) groups were not significantly different at baseline. Feedback indicated that the program structure and content were positively received. No significant changes were evident for the sensation of breathlessness or the SGRQ score (< 4 points). The 6MWD improved significantly in both groups, with the pilot group demonstrating greater gains compared with the control group (mean change of 57 m and effect size of 0.73 vs mean change of 27 m and effect size of 0.23; between groups, P =.03, effect size of 0.69). CONCLUSION: The CBT program for the perceptual experience of breathlessness was feasible and well accepted by subjects, although the protocol raised a number of methodological limitations warranting modification. A larger randomized controlled trial is needed to determine the effectiveness and longerterm outcomes.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1303-1313
    Number of pages11
    JournalRespiratory Care
    Issue number9
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2015


    • Breathlessness
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
    • Cognitive behavioural therapy
    • Exercise capacity
    • Psychological intervention


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