Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs. Fear: CBT to Treat Panic Disorder

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Home / Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs. Fear: CBT to Treat Panic Disorder

It only feels like a heart attack – panic attacks are a manifestation of anxiety.
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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been gaining ground as the choice treatment for patients experiencing panic disorder. Researchers increasingly consider CBT a ‘best practice,’ or recommended method of treatment, for psychiatric social workers to use with patients who have been assigned a diagnosis of panic disorder. CBT can considerably reduce patients’ symptoms and improve their functioning.

Research has repeatedly shown CBT to be highly effective in treating all anxiety disorders. When it comes to panic disorders, CBT is actually more effective than medication in symptom management. Christian Otte, in Dialogues in Neuroscience, wrote that, “CBT can be recommended as a gold standard in the psychotherapeutic treatment of patients with anxiety disorders.”

What is Panic Disorder?

Panic Disorder is a condition in which people experience the sudden onset of panic attacks – physical manifestations of anxiety which strike without warning – with no obvious explanation. Panic attack sufferers will suddenly feel shortness of breath, a clutching feeling in their chests, sweating, and dizziness. The chest pain can even make a panic attack feel like a heart attack. Other symptoms of panic attacks are trembling, heart palpitations, chills, hot flashes, a fear of dying, and a sense of standing outside of one’s own body, watching oneself.

Technically, psychiatrists can diagnose patients with panic disorder if they have recurrent panic attacks that start unexpectedly, and at least one of those panic attacks has to be followed by at least of month of concern either about having additional panic attacks or about the consequences of another panic attack. The attacks must also lead to a change in behavior in order to qualify as a disorder. An example would be someone who experienced a panic attack at the checkout line in the supermarket, and responds by avoiding supermarkets due to fear of having another attack.

What is CBT?

CBT is a type of therapy that teaches patients to recognize how they think and to learn to change the way in which they think about situations. The basis of the therapy is the notion that thoughts, and not situations, lead us to feel and behave in certain ways. Thus, even if a person’s situation does not change, the person can learn to feel and act better when placed into in that situation.

CBT practitioners encourage their patients to question themselves about their personal interpretations of events. They ask them to consider alternative explanations, in order to stop feeling upset about the way situations have transpired. There is a focus on rational thought, with the assumption that if people can learn to question their distorted thinking patterns, they can learn to process situations in a logical, and not emotional, manner.

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