If you have trouble with anxiety or have received a diagnosis of anxiety disorder, then working with a psychotherapist can be an effective means of addressing this challenge. It has been proven that psychotherapy is a successful form of treatment for anxiety and anxious, agitating feelings.1
Anxiety is classically defined as dread, unease, or fear in the absence of immediate, obvious danger. If you suffer from it, you know that anxiety can seriously disrupt your efforts to live a satisfying, meaningful life—potentially impeding functioning in all areas of living, including work, social interactions, and the capacity to engage in and enjoy most activities.
Anxiety is a highly subjective experience that may feature a broad range of physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms. If you seek psychotherapeutic treatment for anxiety, your therapist will want to know the details of your particular experience of overwhelm, unease or struggle. The help that psychotherapy provides for anxiety is always in response to what anxiety is like, specifically, for you.
Anxiety may have a cognitive (thinking), bodily, or emotional mode of expression, or some combination of all three. For example, it may involve hyper-arousal of your nervous system (elevated heart rate, rapid breathing, “fight or flight” response) and/or the repeated anticipation of something terrible occurring. Anxiety may also emerge in your relationships or affect your patterns of being with others, involving unmanageable fears of being rejected, being harmed by or harming another person; engaging in patterns of blaming and guilt; or alternating between drawing others close and then isolating from them.
Treatment: How Psychotherapists Work with Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders
A therapist will work with your anxiety keeping a fundamental aim in mind: to contain the experience of overwhelm that anxious thoughts and feelings can provoke. Seeing a therapist to control anxiety will likely involve some or all of the following:
- Working to reduce the symptoms of your anxiety
- Exploring the possible origins of your anxiety
- Identifying and seeking to understand your anxiety triggers
- Processing emotions or past experiences that are contributing to anxious states
- Identifying and maximizing your internal strengths to deal with your anxiety
Medical Treatments for Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders
If you have already received a medical diagnosis of anxiety disorder from a psychiatrist or a physician and are receiving medication to manage your anxiety, or if you are considering medical therapy, it is important to note that psychotherapy can be a highly useful addition to your treatment regimen.
The roots of anxiety are complex: some may be physiological, and some are psychological—the line between these two realms is far from distinct. You may come from a family in which anxiety is prevalent; you may also have lived through an event or period in your life that compromised your ability to feel stable and safe. Whether you see anxiety as primarily biological or not, managing anxiety always involves addressing the helpless and fearful thoughts and emotions that define it. This is precisely the direction in which psychotherapy operates. Your therapist can help you to orient yourself in the present, to cope better with challenging experiences, and to manage difficult emotions. A psychotherapist can help you to identify, express, and work through your anxious feelings in dialogue. There is no conflict between talk therapy and medication, and in fact many individuals have found them to work better in combination.
Other Psychological Experiences Associated with Anxiety
There are many experiences related to anxiety and anxiety disorders. They include experiences of panic, phobias, obsessions and compulsions; post-traumatic stress; and obsessive-compulsive disorders (click here for more information on therapy for obsessive and compulsive thoughts and behaviours).
Learning More about Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders
If you would like additional information about the nature of anxiety and treatment approaches, a useful online resource is the Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders page at WebMD.
1Shedler, JK. (2010). The Efficacy of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy. American Psychologist, Vol. 65. No.2, 98-109.↩