Background: This systematic review evaluated the effectiveness of exposure-based psychological and physical interventions for the management of high levels of needle fear and/or phobia and fainting in children and adults.
Design/methods: A systematic review identified relevant randomized and quasi-randomized controlled trials of children, adults, or both with high levels of needle fear, including phobia (if not available, then populations with other specific phobias were included). Critically important outcomes were self-reported fear specific to the feared situation and stimulus (psychological interventions) or fainting (applied muscle tension). Data were pooled using standardized mean difference (SMD) or relative risk with 95% confidence intervals.
Results: The systematic review included 11 trials. In vivo exposure-based therapy for children 7 years and above showed benefit on specific fear (n=234; SMD: -1.71 [95% CI: -2.72, -0.7]). In vivo exposure-based therapy with adults reduced fear of needles posttreatment (n=20; SMD: -1.09 [-2.04, -0.14]) but not at 1-year follow-up (n=20; SMD: -0.28 [-1.16, 0.6]). Compared with single session, a benefit was observed for multiple sessions of exposure-based therapy posttreatment (n=93; SMD: -0.66 [-1.08, -0.24]) but not after 1 year (n=83; SMD: -0.37 [-0.87, 0.13]). Non in vivo e.g., imaginal exposure-based therapy in children reduced specific fear posttreatment (n=41; SMD: -0.88 [-1.7, -0.05]) and at 3 months (n=24; SMD: -0.89 [-1.73, -0.04]). Non in vivo exposure-based therapy for adults showed benefit on specific fear (n=68; SMD: -0.62 [-1.11, -0.14]) but not procedural fear (n=17; SMD: 0.18 [-0.87, 1.23]). Applied tension showed benefit on fainting posttreatment (n=20; SMD: -1.16 [-2.12, -0.19]) and after 1 year (n=20; SMD: -0.97 [-1.91, -0.03]) compared with exposure alone.
Conclusions: Exposure-based psychological interventions and applied muscle tension show evidence of benefit in the reduction of fear in pediatric and adult populations.