Autogenic training (AT) is a relaxation technique that has garnered attention for its potential to reduce anxiety and improve psychological well-being. This review aimed to synthesize the findings from a diverse range of studies investigating the relationship between AT and anxiety disorder across different populations and settings.
A comprehensive review of 162 studies, including randomised controlled trials (RCTs), non-randomized controlled trials (N-RCTs), surveys, and meta-analysis, was conducted and 29 studies were selected. Participants in the studies were patients with:
- bulimia nervosa,
- coronary angioplasty,
Others were nursing students, healthy volunteers, athletes, etc.
Anxiety levels were measured before and after the AT intervention using a variety of anxiety assessment scales, including the State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS). The formats, duration, and delivery of the interventions varied, with some studies utilising guided sessions by professionals and other self-administered practises.
The combined findings of these studies revealed consistent trends in the beneficial effects of AT on anxiety reduction. AT was found to be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms across a wide range of populations and settings. Following AT interventions, participants reported reduced anxiety, improved mood states, and improved coping mechanisms. AT was found to be superior to no treatment or a comparable intervention in a number of cases.
The authors conclused that the body of evidence supports autogenic training as a non-pharmacological approach to reducing anxiety and improving psychological well-being. Despite differences in methodology and participant profiles, the studies show that AT has a positive impact on a wide range of populations. The findings merit further investigation and highlight AT’s potential contribution to anxiety management strategies.
I was taught AT many years ago and have practised it occasionally ever since. I have also co-authored several papers of AT that showed encouraging results, e.g.:
- Autogenic training for tension type headaches: a systematic review of controlled trials. Complement Ther Med. 2006 Jun;14(2):144-50.
- Autogenic training for stress and anxiety: a systematic review. Complement Ther Med. 2000 Jun;8(2):106-10.
- Autogenic training to reduce anxiety in nursing students: randomized controlled trial. Kanji N, White A, Ernst E.J Adv Nurs. 2006 Mar;53(6):729-35.
- Autogenic training to manage symptomology in women with chest pain and normal coronary arteries. Menopause. 2009 Jan-Feb;16(1):60-5.
- Autogenic training reduces anxiety after coronary angioplasty: a randomized clinical trial. Am Heart J. 2004 Mar;147(3)
Thus, I feel that the conclusions of this review might be correct.
Several further recent papers seem to support the notion that AT is a treatment worth trying, e.g.:
- A review concluded that as an add-on intervention psychotherapy technique with beneficial outcome on psychophysiological functioning, AT represents a promising avenue towards expanding research findings of brain-body links beyond the current limits of the prevention and clinical management of number of mental disorders.
- A clinical trial showed that AT seems to improve sleep quality and could improve some dimensions of quality of life and other symptoms among people living with HIV. Further studies are needed to confirm these results.
Why then AT is not better studied and more popular? A short paragraph of my next book (to be published in about 6 months) on the inventors of so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs), including the German psychiatry professor Johannes Schulz (1884-1970), inventor of AT, might give you a clue:
Schultz supported the euthanasia program of the Nazis, i.e. the extermination of disabled and other people considered ‘unworthy of living’ during the Third Reich. He passed death sentences on “hysterical women” through his diagnoses. In 1933, Schultz began research on a guide-book on sexual education in which he focused on homosexuality and explored the topics of sterilization and euthanasia. In 1935, he published an essay about the psychological consequences of sterilization and castration among men; in it he supported compulsory sterilization of men in order to eliminate hereditary illnesses. With a diagnostic scheme developed by him in 1940, Schulz advocated the execution of mentally ill patients by stating: “I personally have to align myself with Mr. Hoche […], by recalling the ‘annihilation of life unworthy of life’ and by raising the hope that the madhouses will soon become emptied and remodelled according to this principle.” Schultz was fully aware of the consequences of his diagnostic assessment and even used the term “death sentence in the form of a diagnosis”.
I came across this evidence only years after having published my papers on AT. Would I have developed an interest in AT, if I had known about Schulz’s Nazi past? Probably not.