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Why is everyone so excited about the Unified Protocol?

The Unified Protocol for Transdiagnostic Treatments of Emotional Disorders (UP) is one of the newest treatments being offered at TAP. Why are we so excited about the Unified Protocol? Great question!

The UP is a transdiagnostic treatment. Transdiagnostic treatments are meant to help people experiencing more than one problem at a time (for example, depression and anxiety, anger and anxiety, etc.). We find that most of the time people come to therapy with more than one thing that is bothering them! However, we used to treat problems one at a time, using what are called diagnosis-specific treatments. We found that for many folks, these diagnosis specific treatments didn’t really match peoples’ lived experiences. Thus, transdiagnostic treatments were born! These treatments look at what factors are shared across diagnoses and presenting problems and try to target those shared features as a way to provide more efficient treatment that is able to address multiple problems at the same time.

The UP is a treatment for emotional disorders. Emotional disorders include anxiety, depressive, obsessive-compulsive, eating, trauma-related, and some personality disorders, as well as problems with emotions such as anger. They have three things in common. People with emotional disorders: 1. tend to experience frequent, intense emotions, 2. do not like these emotions, and 3. do things to make the emotions go away that often work well in the short-term but backfire in the long-term. For example, a lot of people do not like feeling anxious so they avoid situations that bring up anxiety. While this works in the moment, avoidance can become really limiting over time.

The UP works to help people develop a new way of experiencing and managing their emotions. Most people are never explicitly taught skills for regulating emotions and these can be really helpful to learn! In the UP, we teach several skills that include: getting a better understanding of emotions, mindfulness, challenging unhelpful thoughts, behavior change, and increasing awareness and tolerance of uncomfortable physical sensations. Finally, in the last part of treatment we work to bring all these skills together to practice them in situations that are the most important to people. So we ask people to do things that bring up strong emotions on purpose as a way to learn more about the emotions themselves and coping with them.

The reason this is all so exciting is that it provides a very flexible treatment that allows us to help people with lots of different problems better understand and manage their emotions. In the UP we can spend more or less time on different skills depending on what each individual wants and needs, which allows us to personalize treatment. Growing research suggests that this treatment is really helpful for the full range of emotional disorders and so we are thrilled to be able to offer it here! Dr. Clair Robbins is a co-developer of this treatment and an expert in its delivery. You can contact her at to set up an appointment.

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