Anxiety Disorders cause severe distress and disrupt the lives of individuals suffering from them.
The frequency and intensity of anxiety involved in these Disorders is often debilitating. Fortunately, with proper and effective treatment, people suffering from Anxiety Disorders can lead normal, productive, and happy lives.
Many people think of treatment for Anxiety Disorders as being solely medication. While drugs can be effective, their remedy is temporary; they work only as long as you take them. And some medications for Anxiety Disorders are habit-forming and cannot be taken for more than a few months at a time.
But there is an equally effective treatment for Anxiety Disorders that will teach you how to manage and control them for the rest of your life: psychotherapy. Although psychotherapy requires more time to work than a pill, it is the best use of your time you will ever experience.
This article discusses the role of psychotherapy in the treatment of Anxiety Disorders under the following headings:
- Avoidance is at the core of Anxiety Disorders
- Why is it important to seek treatment for Anxiety Disorders?
- Are there effective treatments available for Anxiety Disorders?
- How can a qualified therapist help someone suffering from an Anxiety Disorder?
- How long does psychological treatment take?
Avoidance is at the core of Anxiety Disorders
If left untreated, Anxiety Disorders can take over your life. You first will begin to avoid situations, experiences, and feelings that cause you to be anxious. Then you will start avoiding more and more anxiety-provoking things. Over time, this avoidance can grow until you are trapped in a prison of your own making. You may find your family and job severely affected, and the basic activities of daily life nearly impossible.
For example, most people who suffer from recurring panic attacks avoid putting themselves in situations that may trigger another attack. This avoidance frequently grows until they go on to develop Panic Disorder. And people with Panic Disorder commonly develop Agoraphobia (as I have). It’s a vicious cycle of one Disorder causing the next — all through avoidance.
Some Anxiety Disorders, such as Agoraphobia, develop rapidly due to avoidance. The world of Agoraphobics is shrunk down to their home: They can’t leave it without suffering a great deal of Anxiety and even panic attacks. A simple trip to the doctor is an ordeal, and going to the grocery store is impossible.
Even people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Social Phobia may become so restricted in what they can and can’t do that they are virtual prisoners. Unable to take a job that involves making presentations, a person with Social Phobia may be doomed to lower-paying work — that is, if they can even go to a job interview. A person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder can become so afraid of the world that they lead a miserable, abnormal life of continual fretting and worrying.
Why is it important to seek treatment for Anxiety Disorders?
The relief of the pain and suffering of Anxiety Disorders would seem to be reason enough to seek treatment. But there are other reasons just as compelling.
Many people who suffer from an untreated Anxiety Disorders:
- Grow increasingly prone to other psychological disorders, such as other Anxiety Disorders and depression.
- Have a greater tendency to abuse alcohol and other drugs.
- Experience increased physical health problems due to the effects of uncontrolled anxiety and stress.
- Have severe and growing problems with relationships with family members, friends and coworkers. They find coping with daily life to be increasingly difficult, and job performance plummets.
Are there effective treatments available for Anxiety Disorders?
Yes, very much so. Most cases of Anxiety Disorder can be treated successfully by appropriately trained mental health care professionals. And many people can be treated without using medication.
The National Institute of Mental Health reports that research has demonstrated both Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to be highly effective in treating Anxiety Disorders.
Behavioral Therapy involves using techniques to reduce or stop the undesired behaviors associated with Anxiety Disorders. For example, panic attack sufferers experience severe agitation, physical discomfort, and hyperventilation before and during an attack. One approach to the treatment of panic attacks involves training patients in relaxation and deep breathing techniques to counteract these feelings.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) teaches people to understand how their thoughts contribute to the symptoms of Anxiety Disorders. They learn how to change those thought patterns to reduce the likelihood of occurrence and the intensity of reaction. Along with increasing the person’s cognitive awareness, treatment is often combined with behavioral techniques. CBT techniques help the individual gradually confront and tolerate fearful situations in a controlled, safe environment.
How can a qualified therapist help someone suffering from an Anxiety Disorder?
Licensed psychologists are highly qualified to diagnose and treat Anxiety Disorders. Experienced mental health professionals have years’ worth of experience helping people recover from Anxiety Disorders. They will know a number of effective techniques to treat people with varying personalities and needs.
Since Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy have been proven to be very effective in treating the Anxiety Disorders, you should seek a mental health professional who is competent in these types of therapies.
In addition, family psychotherapy, involving the treatment of related individuals, and group psychotherapy, typically with unrelated people, are also valuable ways to treat some patients with Anxiety Disorders. These may employ Behavioral or Cognitive therapies, or may use other techniques. Many people combine both individual and family or group therapy for a more thorough treatment experience. There are also mental health clinics and other specialized treatment programs dealing with specific disorders such as panic or phobias available in some areas.
How long does psychological treatment take?
It is very important to understand that treatments for Anxiety Disorders do not work instantly. Time is required to reverse and learn to manage the avoidance behaviors and other symptoms of the Disorders.
You should be comfortable from the beginning with the general treatment plan being proposed by the therapist you are working with. Sometimes it takes “interviewing” a number of therapists before you find the right one.
Your cooperation and dedication to your treatment is crucial. You will have assignments to carry out between sessions, and your willingness to do these is essential to your treatment’s effectiveness. You must have a strong sense that you and the therapist are collaborating as a team to remedy your Anxiety Disorder.
No one plan works well for all people. Treatment needs to be tailored to your needs and to the type of Anxiety Disorder or disorders that you have. You and your therapist should work together to evaluate whether your treatment plan is being effective over time. Adjustments to the plan sometimes are necessary, since different people respond differently to various treatments.
Many people find that they begin to improve noticeably within eight to ten sessions when they have carefully followed the treatment plan outlined by their therapist. Other Anxiety Disorders take longer to treat, particularly if you have multiple Disorders or another psychological condition is involved.
However long your treatment takes, remember that you are learning to deal with your Anxiety Disorder for the rest of your life. A pill may be effective in the short run, but only therapy can help you learn to live a successful, fulfilling, and happy life without constant medication.
What do you think?
Personally, I have found therapy to be very effective in learning to manage and control my Anxiety Disorders. I am able to get out and do things that I haven’t been capable of for years, all without significant Anxiety symptoms. My therapy has taken longer than many people’s, because I have multiple Anxiety Disorders and bipolar disorder, as well.
But I firmly believe that the time I have spent in therapy is for my long-lasting good, and I look forward to the day when I no longer need it.
- Have you ever had therapy? What has been your experience?
- Many people go through several therapists before they find the right one. Has this happened to you?
- What do you think of this article? Do you believe that medication is just as good or better than therapy?
Resource used in this post:
Anxiety Disorders: The Role of Psychotherapy in Effective Treatment
©2009 Anxiety, Panic & Health. All rights reserved.
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