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Psychotherapy for the Treatment of Panic Disorder

Common Psychological Treatments for Panic Disorder

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Updated May 05, 2009

Psychological interventions are often used for the treatment of panic disorder. Some common interventions that are thought to be beneficial in reducing panic attacks and agoraphobic symptoms include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on the importance of both behavioral and thought processes in understanding and controlling anxiety and panic attacks. The focus of treatment is on inadequate, obstructive, and damaging behaviors and irrational thought processes that contribute to the continuation of symptoms. For example, uncontrolled worrying (thoughts) about what may or may not happen if you have a panic attack may lead to avoiding certain situations (behavior).

CBT has been scientifically studied for the treatment of panic disorder. Research has suggested that this form of treatment is effective in alleviating many of the symptoms of panic and anxiety.

Cognitive Behavior Modification

Donald Meichenbaum, Ph.D., is a psychologist noted for his contributions to cognitive behavioral therapy. He developed cognitive behavior modification (CBM), which focuses on identifying dysfunctional self-talk in order to change unwanted behaviors. Meichenbaum views behaviors as outcomes of our own self-verbalizations.

Panic disorder, agoraphobia or other anxiety disorders often result in certain thought patterns and behaviors that may hinder recovery. But, if you change your thoughts, how you react to anxiety-provoking situations will likely change too.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) is a cognitive behavioral technique developed by Albert Ellis, Ph.D. REBT is known to be effective for the treatment a variety of anxiety disorders. The cognitive and behavioral techniques used in REBT have demonstrated effectiveness in treating panic disorder.

Considered the grandfather of CBT, Ellis developed his technique to teach his patients to detect and dispute “irrational beliefs” that he believed were causing their psychological problems.

Panic-Focused Psychodynamic Therapy (PFPP)

Panic-focused psychodynamic psychotherapy is a form of treatment for panic disorder based on certain psychoanalytic concepts. In general, these concepts assume that people are defined by early human experiences and that unconscious motives and psychological conflicts are at the core of current behavior. The unconscious mind, or subconscious, is a hiding place for painful emotions. Defense mechanisms keep these painful emotions hidden, but if these painful emotions can be brought in to the conscious mind, they can be dealt with and the symptoms of panic disorder and associated behaviors can be eliminated or reduced.

Group therapy

According to the American Psychiatric Association, the benefits of group therapy may include:

  1. decreasing shame and stigma by providing experiences with others who have similar symptoms and difficulties;

  2. providing opportunities for modeling, inspiration, and reinforcement by other group members; and

  3. providing a naturally occurring exposure environment for patients who fear having panic symptoms in social situations.

Couples and family therapy

The symptoms of panic disorder and agoraphobia can affect relationships among family members or significant others. Family therapy to address dependency needs of the panic sufferer, support issues, communication and education may be beneficial as adjunct treatment. It is not recommended that family therapy be the sole therapeutic intervention for those with panic disorder.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. (2006). Practice Guidelines for the Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders.

Corey,Gerald. (2009). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy.  Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Kaplan MD, Harold I. and Sadock MD, Benjamin J. "Synopsis of Psychiatry, Eighth Edition" 1998 Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.

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