The use of medications to treat anxiety disorders has increased dramatically in recent years. While pharmaceutical treatment can be highly effective, many anxiety disorder patients benefit from a treatment approach that combines medication with psychotherapy.
Several different kinds of psychotherapy can be used for anxiety disorders treatment. In general, most approaches aim to provide patients with the tools to cope with their anxiety disorders symptoms so the symptoms are less severe.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
The psychotherapy approach employed most often with anxiety disorder patients is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The cognitive portion focuses on teaching the patient to change the negative thought patterns that promote anxiety. The behavioral portion aims to give the patient coping mechanisms for changing his or her response to stress.
CBT is helpful for many different anxiety disorders, including:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Social phobia.
Exposure-based therapy is another type of psychotherapy that is particularly helpful for people with specific phobias. In these therapy sessions, the patient is slowly introduced to the object of his or her fear. The goal is to allow the patient to become more comfortable with this object. The patient may never feel at ease with the object in question, but he or she can often learn to keep anxiety symptoms in check.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
For post-traumatic stress disorder, exposure-based therapy is sometimes combined with a kind of therapy that leads the patient through eye movement exercises while asking the patient to focus on certain memories. This therapy is called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). The concept of this complex approach is that the exercises can help patients recall their disturbing memories with less anxiety.
During a psychodynamic psychotherapy session, the therapist tries to uncover the underlying emotional conflicts that are contributing to the patient’s anxiety. The therapist’s approach is getting the patient in touch with their innermost feelings and past experiences. This type of therapy is commonly used for generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.
Like cognitive behavioral therapy, the ultimate goal of psychodynamic psychotherapy is to improve the patient’s ability to cope with anxiety. However, unlike CBT, psychodynamic psychotherapy does not attempt to simulate stressful situations so the patient can practice coping strategies. For this reason, psychodynamic psychotherapy is sometimes considered less symptom-based than CBT.
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