Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

Generally, anxiety disorders are treated with either medication (pharmacotherapy), psychological therapy, or both. The specific treatment choices depend on the problem. Before treatment begins, a careful diagnostic evaluation is carried out to identify the type of anxiety disorder or the combination of disorders that are present, as well as any coexisting conditions, such as depression or substance abuse. Some coexisting conditions have such a strong effect on the individual that treating the anxiety disorder must wait until the coexisting conditions are brought under control.
Occasionally a person must try several different treatments or combinations of treatment before they find the one that works best for them. Unfortunately, sometimes the person believes that they “failed” at treatment or that the treatment didn’t work for them when, in fact, it was not given for an adequate length of time or was administered incorrectly.

1. Psychological Therapy

Behavior Therapy (BT)

This type of therapy is a step-by-step structured technique tailored by therapists to suit individual clients. Essentially behaviour therapy is about ‘unlearning’ disruptive patterns and replacing them with new behaviours.

Some of the techniques used include:

  • Systematic desensitisation
    In this therapy a person is taught relaxation techniques, and through combining a relaxed body state with thought of the feared situation, a person gradually overcomes their fears.
  • Exposure therapy
    A person is immersed in their feared situation with the idea that they have faced their worst fear and survived.

Cognitive Therapy (CT)
CT challenges the person’s thought patterns and behaviour. Cognitive therapists focus their treatment on assisting the person to modify the thoughts causing their unwanted behaviour.

Psychotherapy
Psychotherapy involves talking with a trained mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or counsellor. This ‘talking’ therapy can help the individual to understand and contemplate their feelings and the difficulties they experience directly as a result of the disorder.

Support Groups
Many people with anxiety disorders benefit from joining a self-help or support group and sharing their problems and achievements with others. Support groups provide support, friendship, education, understanding and information for the individual and to their friends and family.

2. Pharmacotherapy

The principal medications used for anxiety disorders are antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and beta-blockers to control some of the physical symptoms. Medication will not cure anxiety disorders, but it can keep them under control while the person receives psychological therapy. Medication must be prescribed by physicians, usually psychiatrists, who can either offer a psychological therapy themselves or work as a team with psychologists, social workers, or counsellors who provide the psychological therapy.