Today we recognize anxiety disorders as the most common mental health disorders and among the most treatable. It is easy to forget how far our views have come since the first phobia meeting was held in 1978 in White Plains, New York.
The clinicians and patients who attended the early phobia meetings discussed the need for a national organization to promote awareness of treatments for phobias. The new treatments, so-called contextual or exposure therapies, seemed promising.
By 1980 a small dedicated group had emerged to found the Phobia Society of America (PSA). The founders could only begin to imagine what impact unraveling the mysteries of anxiety would have in terms of diagnostic practice and future treatment options.
Even more remote was the dawn of the information age, when communications technology would provide patients and clinicians instant access to information from anywhere around the globe. This is the backdrop on which the last 30 years have developed.
Landmark research studies coupled with the organization’s advocacy moved the field forward. Breakthroughs in neuroscience brought anxiety to the forefront as a condition where transformative, translational, and evidence-based treatment would one day emerge.
Print, radio, television, and Internet media enthusiastically cover anxiety disorders and continue to raise awareness of their treatment today. ADAA’s website is accessed by millions, replacing handwritten notes and telephone calls asking for help.
Dr. George Curtis, a former Board of Directors member, recalls much of the early enthusiasm.
"It rapidly became clear that exposure therapy for phobias would soon be yesterday’s news,” he said, “and to remain relevant the Phobia Society would need to move with the development of the field, to embrace and promote the application of scientific methods to deepen our understanding of anxiety disorders, and to embrace biology as well as psychology.”
To keep step with these changing views, the PSA changed its name in 1990 to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, often referred to as ADAA. The organization also expanded to include a growing cadre of basic and clinical researchers and added a rigorous research program to the annual conference, extending the organization’s reach.
With these changes, ADAA grew to become one of the first mental health organizations to incorporate patient education, advocacy, clinician education, and dissemination of science into its mission.
To this day, the organization plays a pivotal role in advancing the field by bridging the gap between research and clinical practice to help those with anxiety disorders and their families. ADAA has evolved into a unique hybrid organization with a growing professional membership of clinicians, basic and clinical scientists, clinician researchers and students, as well as consumer supporters.
ADAA members have reason to be proud of what we have accomplished. Our annual conference has a growing international presence and continues to be the only meeting that integrates biological and psychological approaches in a program of interest to clinicians, researchers, and consumers.
As we move ahead, ADAA remains a vibrant organization that will continue to build bridges and improve the lives of people suffering from anxiety and related disorders.