Can Psychotherapy Help With Panic Attacks?


Psychotherapy involves talking with a trained mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or counselor, to learn how to deal with problems like panic disorder.
Different types of psychotherapy for panic attacks include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Behavioral Therapy
Research has shown that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy, is an effective treatment for panic attacks.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has two components. The cognitive component helps people change thinking patterns that keep them from overcoming their fears. For example, a person with panic disorder might be helped to see that his or her panic attacks are not really heart attacks, as previously feared. In essence, the person learns to overcome the tendency to interpret his or her physical symptoms in the worst possible way.
The behavioral component of CBT seeks to change people's reactions to anxiety-provoking situations. A key element of this component is exposure, in which people confront the things they fear. An example would be a treatment approach called "exposure and response prevention" for people with OCD. If the person has a fear of dirt and germs, the therapist may encourage him to dirty his hands and then go a certain period of time without washing. The therapist helps the patient to cope with the resultant panic attack.
Eventually, after this exercise has been repeated a number of times, the panic attacks will diminish. Another behavioral technique is to teach the patient deep breathing as an aid to relaxation and managing panic attacks.
If you undergo CBT or behavioral therapy, exposure will be carried out only when you are ready. It will be done gradually and only with your permission. You will work with the therapist to determine how much you can handle and at what pace you can proceed.
To be effective for treating panic attacks, CBT or behavioral therapy must be directed at the person's specific anxieties.
CBT and behavioral therapy have no adverse side effects other than the temporary discomfort of panic attacks, but the therapist must be well trained in the techniques of the treatment in order for it to work as desired. During treatment, the therapist probably will assign "homework" -- specific problems that the patient will need to work on between sessions.
CBT or behavioral therapy generally lasts about 12 weeks. It may be conducted in a group, provided the people in the group have sufficiently similar problems. There is some evidence that, after panic attack treatment is terminated, the beneficial effects of CBT last longer than those achieved using medications for people with panic disorder.
Medication may be combined with psychotherapy, and for many people, this is the best approach to treatment. As stated earlier, it is important to give any treatment a fair trial. And if one approach doesn't work, the odds are that another one will, so don't give up.
If you have recovered from a panic disorder, and at a later date it recurs, don't consider yourself a "treatment failure." Recurrences can be treated effectively, just like an initial episode. In fact, the skills you learned in dealing with the initial episode can be helpful in coping with a setback.
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