Can Counseling Help Fear And Anxiety?

Medically reviewed by Dr. April Brewer, DBH, LPC
Updated June 6, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Anxiety can involve physical changes that occur in certain situations when the body perceives danger, whether it's real or not. While fear is a natural response to immediate danger, anxiety can be triggered by an apparent threat or no apparent reason. Although anxiety and fear feel similar, there are important differences in their triggers, physical sensations, and emotions. Counseling is an effective treatment for anxiety disorders, helping individuals manage their symptoms to cope, improve their mental health, and regain control over their lives.

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Types of these disorders

There are several types of anxiety disorders classified in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). These mental disorders include the following. 

GAD

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is often characterized by a persistent feeling of dread for an extended period. These symptoms can impact your physical health and emotional well-being. Symptoms may include:
  • Fatigue

  • Irritability 

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Feeling on edge

People with this type of anxiety may also experience physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, muscle aches, or unexplained pain. In general, you may be at a higher risk for developing anxiety if you have a family member who lives with anxiety.

Some people with anxiety feel emotions differently than others without anxiety. The experience of anxiety, fear, and related emotions can vary from person to person, as emotions differ based on individual factors such as genetics, past experiences, and environmental factors. In general, anxiety results in varying symptoms for each individual.

Panic disorder 

Panic disorder may cause unexpected and frequent panic attacks or sudden and intense periods of discomfort, fear, or loss of control without a clear cause. Symptoms of a panic attack may include a racing heart rate, intense fear, trembling, sweating, chest pain, decreased blood flow to the extremities, a sense of impending danger, or feeling out of control. Sometimes, individuals experiencing all the physical changes associated with panic attacks may believe they’re having a heart attack. Panic attacks can occur in various situations when someone may feel fearful they are unsafe, such as walking on a dark street or going through stressful life events. However, a panic attack can also occur for no known or apparent reason.

Social phobia 

Social anxiety disorder (also called social phobia) is a type of anxiety that causes individuals to feel anxious, nervous, or afraid in social situations. These feelings of fear and anxiety can interfere with daily activities like going to work, school or running errands. The fear response can cause physical reactions such as tense muscles, sweating, a racing heart, or stomach aches. Fear symptoms commonly overlap with other anxiety disorders, and a person's experience of anxiety differs based on their emotions and the triggers that can activate the limbic system.

Specific phobias 

Specific phobias involve an extreme fear of specific situations, objects, or places, which may trigger intense anxiety or panic attacks. This type of fear and anxiety may seem disproportionate to the potential danger, but they are a natural part of the fear response. People with phobias may feel nervous, and their muscles tense when exposed to triggers that make them feel afraid. It is common for the emotions of those with these mental health conditions to differ based on the perceived threat of physical danger.

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What is counseling?

Counseling is a broad term used to describe the process of getting professional assistance using various techniques to improve well-being, resolve mental health challenges, and prevent and relieve distress to increase one’s ability to function.

Therapy or counseling is often used to treat mental illness and the physical symptoms associated with those concerns. Treating anxiety disorders, depression, anger management, and relationship problems may be possible with a suitable and effective therapist. Often, a therapist will teach mindfulness techniques and relaxation techniques to use as coping skills in everyday life.

Counseling options for fear and worry

There are many options for therapy and counseling for fear and anxiety disorders. One of the most widely used forms is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a form of talk therapy that aims to help an individual confront and challenge unwanted thoughts that might lead them to feel fear or anxiety. It may be practiced by examining negative thought processes and replacing them with positive thinking patterns. 

The success of a counseling type may depend on the type of anxiety disorder a person is experiencing. People with GAD may respond well to CBT, whereas an individual with a severe phobia might find success in exposure therapy. Choosing the proper type of counseling may begin with knowing your symptoms and conversing with potential therapists. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) one of the most widely used therapy treatments for many mental health concerns, and there is a significant body of evidence, including various meta-analyses and clinical studies, demonstrating the effectiveness of CBT for anxiety disorders.

A counselor can approach CBT in several ways. Many sessions are one-on-one with the counselor, or a counselor may lead a group therapy session. Change often occurs through attending the sessions and doing homework between sessions. CBT often requires a shorter treatment span than other types of therapy. 

Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) 

Although considered a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy, exposure therapy specifically desensitizes individuals to their fears by exposing them to the fear over time. It may be especially effective for treating anxiety associated with a specific phobia, fear, or compulsion. For example, if a person has arachnophobia and seeing a spider triggers anxiety and panic, systematic desensitization may involve exposing them to a spider photo, an article about a spider, or a video of spiders. 

The counseling session might include keeping a tiny spider across the room from the client. In the next session, the spider might be a little closer. The process could continue until the fear starts to diminish and they see there is no real danger. The therapist might note when the client is feeling anxious or feeling nervous during the exposure.

This type of therapy has been effective in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and can also treat other types of anxiety, like social anxiety disorder. For instance, with a fear of public speaking, a counselor might have the patient prepare a short speech to recite during a session. The following session might involve one additional listener. By the end of the exposure therapy, the patient might be reciting the speech to a room full of people. Although it may seem scary to face your fears, exposure therapy has a high response rate for many conditions and symptoms. It can teach individuals to change the way they react to situations that previously caused them to feel frightened or experience extreme stress.

Hypnosis for fear

You may have seen forms of hypnosis for entertainment through movies or tv. However, hypnosis may also be used in a clinical setting. In these sessions, the client is still in control. In this type of therapy for anxiety, the client and the counselor work together to develop a specific focus to remove the focus from anxiety. 

An individual using hypnosis for treatment may be willing and able to partake in the sessions. Focus and an openness to new techniques may be required. By identifying the root of the sources of anxiety, a client and counselor can lessen the sensations and focus on more positive or wanted sensations or thoughts. 

Medication

Medications often treat the symptoms of anxiety without addressing the core issue. Although generalized anxiety disorder and similar conditions may benefit from anti-anxiety medication, not everyone may find it useful. 

For some conditions like social phobias, studies have found that talk therapy is more effective than medication. The American Psychiatric Association provides additional information regarding whether therapy or medication may be more helpful for various mental health disorders. 

Speaking with your mental healthcare professional about the possibility of medication can help you determine if it is a suitable option. Some people may find relief from utilizing therapy and medications in conjunction with one another. Keep in mind that some medications may require you to avoid alcohol consumption.

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Online therapy

If you experience fear or anxiety that interferes with your daily life, therapy may help you gain valuable coping mechanisms to manage your symptoms. You can learn grounding techniques, like the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise that uses your five senses to bring you back to the present moment, and other breathing exercises that can help when feeling overwhelmed. You may find mental health improvement in the form of a support group or traditional in-person therapy. However, some individuals experiencing anxiety may fear seeing a therapist in person or face barriers to treatment, such as frequent panic attacks or social anxiety.

It can feel overwhelming to locate a therapist, make phone calls, schedule an appointment, and meet with a new therapist face-to-face. With online therapy, you can get matched with an available counselor, attend sessions from home, and choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions. If you don’t want to meet over video or phone calls, the live chat option can allow you to message back and forth with your therapist. 

Research also shows that online therapy is effective in treating anxiety disorders. One study found that online CBT could effectively treatgeneral anxiety disorder, social anxiety, phobias, and panic disorder. If you’re interested in trying this therapy method, consider reaching out to a platform like BetterHelp to be matched with a therapist that fits your preferences and symptoms.

Takeaway

Fear and anxiety can be concerning, and many may wonder if reaching out for support from a therapist for anxiety would be beneficial. Several forms of therapy have been shown to be effective for treating symptoms of anxiety disorders and could make a difference in your emotional health and any mental health condition you may be experiencing. If you want to learn more about how these methods could support you, consider reaching out to a therapist for further guidance.  

Fear and anxiety can be concerning, and many may wonder if reaching out for support from a therapist for anxiety would be beneficial. Several forms of therapy have been shown to be effective for treating symptoms of anxiety disorders and could make a difference in your emotional health and any mental health condition you may be experiencing. If you want to learn more about how these methods could support you, consider reaching out to a therapist for further guidance.  

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