Agoraphobia is a condition in which an individual feels an overwhelming, intense sense of fear and avoids places or situations where escape might be difficult or help might be unavailable should sudden, panic-like symptoms develop. Some people even avoid normal, everyday activities, such as grocery shopping or driving. The condition is best treated with a specific form of short-term psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy.
Agoraphobia involves intense fear and avoidance of any place or situation where escape might be difficult or help unavailable in the event of developing sudden panic-like symptoms.
Some people's lives become so restricted by agoraphobia that they avoid normal, everyday activities such as grocery shopping or driving. In some cases, they become housebound. Or, they may be able to confront a feared situation only if accompanied by a spouse or other trusted person. Basically, these people avoid any situation in which they would feel helpless if a panic attack were to occur.
Early treatment of panic disorder can often prevent agoraphobia.
Agoraphobia is best treated with a specific form of short-term psychotherapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
The central component of cognitive-behavioral therapy for agoraphobia is exposure therapy, which involves helping people gradually become more comfortable with situations that frighten them. The exposure process often involves three stages:
- Stage 1 involves introducing the person to the feared situation.
- Stage 2 focuses on increasing the risk for disapproval in that situation so the person can build confidence that he or she can handle rejection or criticism.
- Stage 3 involves teaching the person techniques to cope with panic. In this stage, the person imagines his or her worst fear and is encouraged to develop constructive responses to the fear and perceived disapproval.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy for phobias also includes anxiety management training -- for example, teaching people techniques such as deep breathing to control their levels of anxiety.
Another important aspect of treatment is called cognitive restructuring, which involves helping individuals identify their misjudgments and develop more realistic expectations of the likelihood of danger in social situations.