Panic disorder can keep you from living a happy, healthy life. Over time, your world begins to shrink as the fear of having a panic attack intensifies. At the moment, it may feel like the walls are closing in, but there is hope.
Panic disorder therapy can help you address your trauma and develop the skills you need to face your fears and manage your symptoms. We’re going to explore some of the top therapies for panic disorder that truly work.
Announcement: Treating panic disorder can be complex and challenging. However, a variety of therapeutic approaches have been proven to be effective at reducing symptoms and helping patients regain control of their emotions. In this post, we explore the most effective therapies to empower patients, their families, and their support networks with knowledge and options for recovery.
What Type of Therapy Is Best for Panic Disorder?
Finding the right therapy for panic disorder can be challenging, but focusing on the most popular and effective therapies can help you get on the right track.
Some of the top therapies for this disorder include:
1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a type of psychotherapy. The underlying belief with CBT is that a person’s thoughts, perceptions, and feelings influence their behavior. You may not be able to change your life circumstances, but you can change your perception of those circumstances.
Shifting your perceptions and thoughts is the cornerstone of CBT. The aim is to transform negative automatic thoughts into rational and positive ones.
The CBT Process
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a multi-step process. While treatments will vary from one patient to the next, most will include the following:
- Identifying and replacing negative thoughts. With the help of your therapist, you will learn how to recognize negative thinking patterns and begin to understand how these thought patterns affect your behavior. You’ll also learn how to start transforming those negative thoughts into more positive and rational ones. Your therapist may introduce a wide range of exercises and activities, including affirmations, keeping a gratitude journal, and using journal writing in your daily life.
- Skill building and making behavioral changes. Developing healthy coping strategies can help change maladaptive behaviors, reduce anxiety, and help you get through panic attacks. These skills are practiced in sessions and in real life so that you can use these skills long after treatment ends. Techniques can include desensitization, deep breathing exercises, meditation, and more.
CBT is used to treat a variety of mental health conditions, from depression to phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Research has also found that CBT is effective at producing change and can help individuals with panic disorder.
In one meta-analysis of 21 studies, CBT was found to be the most effective at treating panic disorder.
CBT can take some time to be effective, depending on whether you have any other underlying mental health issues or traumatic histories. Still, this therapy is often the first choice of therapists because it has worked for a wide range of individuals.
2. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Dialectal behavior therapy, or DBT, is a modified variation of CBT. The aim of this therapy is to teach patients how to:
- Live in the present
- Develop healthy coping strategies
- Regulate their emotions
- Improve their relationships with others
Initially, DBT was used to treat borderline personality disorder. Today, it’s used to treat a wide range of mental health conditions, including panic disorder.
DBT uses a variety of panic disorder therapy techniques to help patients reach their goals, including:
Improving your distress tolerance skills will make it easier for you to accept yourself and the present moment. DBT helps you improve these skills by teaching you coping mechanisms, like:
- Improving the moment
These techniques will empower you to handle stressful situations and give you confidence that you can face anything that comes your way.
Mindfulness skills are at the core of DBT. These skills help you live in the present moment and bring awareness to what you’re feeling in your body, such as your impulses, sensations and thoughts, and the world around you. The goal is to learn how to be present without judgment of the current circumstances.
Through DBT, patients develop skills that help them be more assertive in relationships, but in a healthy way. You will work on your listening and communication skills.
Learning how to regulate your emotions can help prevent panic attacks or make it easier to get through them if they do arise.
DBT can be effective for panic disorder because patients learn how to accept and tolerate the intense emotions that come with these attacks. The skills developed during treatment can help reduce symptoms over time and empower patients to improve the quality of their lives.
3. Mindfulness-Based Therapies
Mindfulness-based therapies are also used to help treat patients with panic disorder. DBT is considered a mindfulness-based intervention. Other interventions include:
- Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
These therapies incorporate practices like mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga into treatment.
The goal is to help patients stay in the present, accept the world around them without judgment and regulate their emotions. These therapies can be highly effective for patients with panic disorder and can help them develop the skills to manage their symptoms well into the future.
4. Exposure Therapy
Exposure therapy is a treatment option that helps patients confront their fears in a gradual and safe way. Fear often leads to avoidance behaviors, which can bring relief in the short term. However, over the long term, it can cause fears to become even more intense.
With exposure therapy, patients with panic disorder begin to face their fears. Over time and with continued exposure, the intense fear reaction decreases and may even disappear.
Patients can be exposed to their fears via:
- Imaginal exposure (imagining the fearful situation)
- In vivo, or directly facing a feared object, activity or situation
- Interoceptive exposure, which brings on harmless physical sensations that are feared
- Virtual reality
Exposure therapy can be effective for treating this disorder, but not all patients will respond in a positive way. In some cases, patients find that their fears are even more intense after exposure therapy.
5. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR takes a different approach to treating panic disorder. Patients go right back to where the panic attacks began and use EMDR techniques to retrain the brain. The goal is to teach your brain that the situation is not life-threatening, which can curb the fight or flight response.
EMDR requires patients to focus on the triggering events that lead to their panic attacks, and with the help of a therapist, connect with the emotional part of the brain that feels the fear (the limbic system).
These are five of the most effective therapies for panic disorder, but which one should you choose?
Several factors are considered when choosing the best therapy, including:
- The severity of the disorder
- The patient’s medical history
- History of treatment
Some patients may try a variety of treatments until they find one that works for them.
What’s the best therapy for panic disorder? There is no right or wrong answer. The right panic disorder treatment therapy will be the one that helps you manage and improve your symptoms. Seeking professional help and maintaining therapy will give you the best chance of success at overcoming panic disorder.