Dallas CBT specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy, which is the gold-standard treatment for children and adults with panic disorder. Whether you just recently began having problems with panic attacks or have been living with panic for years, we often see significant progress within a relatively short amount of time with this form of treatment, around 15 to 20 sessions. Typical goals for treatment include reducing or eliminating panic attacks, decreasing fear about panic, increasing your ability to manage stressful situations, improving mood and overall anxiety, and generally living a more fulfilling life. Read more in detail about therapy for panic disorder below.
What is Panic Disorder?
Panic Disorder involves repeated panic attacks and frequent worry about when the next attack might happen. Panic attacks can occur either out-of-the-blue or in response to specific situations. Panic often involves a rush of fear and physical symptoms, such as a racing heart, chest tightness, trembling, and sweating. A panic attack can feel like a heart attack and cause people to worry that they are going to die, lose control, or “go crazy.” People with panic disorder might start avoiding places where an attack could occur, like a mall, concert, or driving a car.
Potential Signs of Panic Disorder
- Repeated, unexpected panic or anxiety attacks which feel like an abrupt surge of intense fear or discomfort
- Strong physical sensations like a racing heart, heavy breathing, difficulty breathing, tightness or heaviness in chest, sweating, trembling or upset stomach that occur all at once
- Trips to the hospital, doctor, or cardiologist for attacks, with no identifiable medical or physical problem
- Worry about “losing control” or “going crazy”
- Nervousness around situations that might prompt a panic attack, like driving, shopping, closed or small spaces, or being in a crowd
- Spending time worrying and thinking about panic attacks and when you might have another attack
Cognitive behavioral therapy utilizing exposure techniques, also known as “panic control treatment,” is a scientifically-supported treatment for Panic Disorder that reduces panic symptoms and improves functioning usually within 15 to 20 sessions.
Components of the treatment include 1) Education aimed at understanding the cycle of panic and how negative thoughts and physical sensations interact to maintain anxiety and panic, 2) Breathing skills training to increase coping during panic, 3) Cognitive restructuring, or “thinking skills,” and 4) Gradual and systematic exposure. The cognitive components of this therapy approach are effective in reducing negative or catastrophic interpretations of physical sensations of anxiety that fuel the cycle of panic. Exposures, which involve gradually facing fearful stimuli, provide the opportunity to desensitize to anxiety-provoking bodily sensations, situations, or thoughts. Through exposure, one learns that feared consequences are unlikely to happen and that anxiety will decrease naturally over time, and anxiety will stay down after repeated exposure. Interoceptive exposures, which involve facing anxiety-provoking bodily sensations, are critical to decreasing sensitivity to physical symptoms and allowing for more rational and helpful interpretations of these sensations. In vivo exposures involve gradually and therapeutically confronting real-world situations that cause anxiety and are avoided (often in an effort to decrease chances of a panic attack). The overarching goal of this therapy is to reduce anxiety, panic, and distressing thoughts and to decrease avoidance of objectively safe bodily sensations, thoughts and situations. This treatment may cause short-term anxiety, given that you’ll be confronting fears, but it is the most efficient way to overcome anxiety in the long-term.
Treatment is customized for each individual, with personal experiences and concerns influencing each aspect of treatment.