Unified Protocol: An Evidence Based Treatment for Emotional Disorders

Unified Protocol: An Evidenced Based Treatment for Emotional Disorders

What are Emotional Disorders?Mood chart

Emotional disorders include anxiety and mood disorders (i.e. depression) that have one major feature in common: a lack of emotion regulation skills. Individuals who experience emotional disorders use certain strategies to deal with their symptoms that typically involve avoiding uncomfortable emotions as much as possible. Yet, avoidance maintains these uncomfortable symptoms longer, and often exacerbates them.

One evidence-based treatment for emotional disorders is Unified Protocol (UP). UP is a treatment that teaches you to better understand your emotional experiences, helps you to understand how the way you behave or think may unintentionally contribute to your symptoms, and offers you skills to help you to manage these symptoms when they arise.

Core Treatment Components of UP

UP will help you learn to confront and experience uncomfortable emotions, with the goal of managing them in more adaptive ways. UP has multiple components of treatment including emotional awareness, cognitive flexibility, and behavior change.

Emotional Awareness

A core component of UP is to increase your emotional awareness, with the intention of gaining a more objective view of your emotions versus getting caught up in them. This is accomplished by engaging in nonjudgmental present-focused awareness practice. Such a stance involves staying in the present moment- the here and now- being aware of your thoughts and feelings, and also your actions, in the moment. Practicing present-focused awareness decreases your worrying about the future or focusing on the past, allowing you to experience the emotion as it is, in the moment. By allowing yourself to experience an emotion non-judgmentally, you may find that the emotion is not as overwhelming as you expected and that you can handle it better than you think you can. You may also find that your emotions can serve as a useful source of information to help guide you in valued directions.

Cognitive Flexibility

Similar to CBT treatment (mentioned here), one of the main goals of the UP treatment is to increase your cognitive flexibility. For those who struggle with emotional disorders, it is common to get “stuck” in unhelpful patterns of thinking about the experiences we have. In order to get “unstuck” UP teaches you skills to allow you to think more flexibly. The treatment focuses on two main thought styles that tend to increase our symptoms. This first is probability overestimation– when we over-estimate the likelihood of a negative event occurring. The other is catastrophizing– when we think of the worst consequences if an event were to happen. Both of these thoughts, although common, increase your distress and leave you stuck in tunnel vision. UP helps you to increase the flexibility of your thoughts by teaching you how to consider other, more balanced alternatives. This adaptive strategy can hep you to regulate and manage your emotions during difficult situations.

Behavior Change

Another main component of the UP treatment is identifying unhelpful behaviors you engage in either before a difficult situation (i.e. avoidance) or while experiencing distressing emotions that increase your symptoms. Given that evidence indicates that avoidance can increase the distress you feel, UP focuses on decreasing avoidance tendencies. Another behavioral goal of this treatment is to learn new, helpful behaviors that you can engage in before, during and after experiencing distressing emotions. These skills help to facilitate new learning and new memories for you to take with you and reinforce helpful behaviors in the future when distressing emotions arise.

What Can You Do

Although a common diagnosis, emotional disorders can be uncomfortable and unsettling to experience. The good news is that experienced professionals that can provide UP treatment for emotional disorders can be successful in reducing the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to and maintain your distress, and increase your ability to cope with and tolerate distressing emotions. If you feel you have been experiencing symptoms of emotional disorders, or think you could benefit from UP, please contact us to find out more or schedule an appointment. You can also view our CBT treatment and resources pages for more information or visit http://www.unifiedprotocol.com.


Deborah Schleicher, Psy.D., Associate | Behavioral Associates Los Angeles


Behavioral Associates Los Angeles is a group of cognitive-behavioral therapists specializing in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders. To find out more, contact us by phone at 310-205-0523 or by email at treatment@behavioralassociatesla.com.

You can also request an appointment with a Behavioral Associates LA psychologist by submitting a brief patient assessment form on our Website. Our clinical staff will follow up with you within 24 hours of submission.