5 Types Of Therapies For Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated April 6, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many people experience fears and worries. However, when fears start to impact daily functioning, they may be related to clinical anxiety. Over 40 million US adults have a chronic anxiety disorder, making it one of the most common mental illnesses. If you believe you may be living with an anxiety disorder or have been diagnosed, there are five popular treatment options to consider. 

Could Anxiety Be Affecting The Quality Of Your Decision Making?

What Is Anxiety?

Some might conflate anxiety with worry, whereas others may think of nervousness. However, anxiety is an emotion characterized by immense fear, distress, and physical symptoms. Anxiety often involves a fear of a real or perceived threat. You do not have to have a severe anxiety disorder to feel anxiety. However, if anxiety frequently negatively impacts your life, it may indicate an anxiety disorder or underlying concern. 

Several anxiety disorders are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, DSM-5, and several mental illnesses and psychiatric disorders are often comorbid with anxiety, such as depression and borderline personality disorder. The most common anxiety disorders include the following: 

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

  • Social anxiety disorder 

  • Separation anxiety disorder 

  • Specific phobias 

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) 

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • Panic disorder

Several factors can contribute to these mental health conditions, including genetic and environmental factors. Individuals may also be more likely to struggle with anxiety and other mental disorders with a family history. 

Symptoms Of Anxiety

Anxiety symptoms can be mental and physical and differ depending on the person and their diagnosis. People with anxiety disorders may have specific symptoms, like they may feel nervous, experience racing thoughts, or struggle to think logically about situations. In some cases, like in panic disorder, individuals might experience panic attacks, which are periods of immense distress accompanying physical symptoms like the following: 

  • Sweating

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Shallow breathing or hyperventilation 

  • Difficulty falling asleep 

  • Digestive concerns 

  • Shaking 

Several mental health conditions can be comorbid with anxiety disorders. For example, many people who live with conditions like depression also experience anxiety. In these cases, a mental health provider can treat depression and anxiety simultaneously. 

Fives Types Of Therapy For Anxiety 

With more than 400 types of therapy used in the US, there are many options to consider when treating anxiety disorder symptoms., including dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), Interpersonal therapy, psychodynamic therapy, psychoanalytic therapy, commitment therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and more.  Below are five common treatments used for reducing anxiety symptoms. However, the list is not exhaustive, and other options are available

Animal-Assisted Therapies

Many animal-assisted therapies can bring emotional relief and connection to those experiencing anxiety. Dogs, cats, and horses are often used in anxiety therapy due to their gentle nature and the possibility of allowing the client to form a connection with a loving animal. 

Animals often leave individuals feeling relaxed. Their presence might help clients ignore their fears and focus on an activity with the animal. For example, those participating in equine therapy may clean a horse, feed it, and go for relaxing rides. It can also be helpful for people struggling with anxiety to experience a bond with an animal. Experiencing mental health challenges can feel lonely, and animals provide connection. 

Another type of animal-assisted therapy includes sessions with a therapy animal like a therapy dog. In these cases, someone else owns the animal, and the animal has undergone therapy animal training. They have calm temperaments due to the nature of their job and are often playful and cuddly. Some therapists train their dogs to be therapy dogs so they can bring them to the office. 

Note that therapy animals are not the same as service animals. Service animals are trained to complete one or more tasks to aid an individual handler with a disability. They are not permitted to offer tasks to others or provide therapy work unless they are also trained to do so. 

Art Therapy

Art therapy can be a unique way to release anxiety-related emotions, as it can be challenging to express yourself verbally through fear or worry. Art therapy allows clients to use various mediums to showcase emotions or relieve tension. As you create art, you may notice yourself feeling calm, reducing racing thoughts, or shifting focus. A randomized controlled trial found that art therapy is effective in reducing anxiety symptoms, enhancing quality of life and facets of emotion regulation

Art therapists use various mediums, including paint, pencil, pastels, glass, jewelry, beads, paper mache, clay, sculpting materials, and other art supplies, to allow clients to express themselves or talk while focusing on another activity. The art therapist can offer prompts, talk to the individual about their creative process, or silently create art with them. 

Creating art may also build self-esteem. After you've finished a project, you can feel a sense of accomplishment or pride. Your therapist may compliment your pieces and ask you to describe them. You can also create art at home on your own as a way to cope with distressing emotions or symptoms. You can do art therapy as an individual or as part of group therapy. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) combines cognitive therapy and behavior therapy. It is one of the most effective types of therapy for anxiety because it focuses on the connection between a person's thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. 

When someone struggles with anxiety, their thoughts may be fearful or contain cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are unhelpful thoughts that may not be based on logical thinking. They can be hard to identify, but CBT therapists are trained to help clients restructure and rephrase these thoughts to make them more manageable. 

Exposure therapy is also a common type of CBT used to treat anxiety disorders, phobias, post traumatic stress disorder and more. Exposure therapy often uses a technique called systematic desensitization, where mental health professionals will use things like virtual reality exposure to expose patients to stimuli and help reduce the reaction.  

Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be short-term or long-term. Initially, clients may work with their therapist to recognize unwanted thought patterns and draw connections between them and their behaviors. Afterward, the therapist may use exercises or homework assignments to help the client learn relaxation techniques or new ways of thinking. 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, cognitive restructuring practices can help people living with anxiety disorders decrease anxious feelings. It can also help treat borderline personality disorder and others. 

Biofeedback Therapy

Biofeedback therapy involves being hooked up to monitors and sensors that monitor bodily functions during counseling. During sessions, the therapist may monitor the client's breathing rate, brain waves, heart rate, skin temperature, and blood pressure. As clients discuss their symptoms or look at certain stimuli, they can watch how their body reacts to them. 

Using coping skills, they can watch as their physical vitals change when their emotions do. Allowing clients to see their physical progress may show them which coping skills are most effective and prove that these exercises work. It can also help them identify stress when not hooked up to the monitors. For example, if they remember how it feels to have a racing heart, they might be able to spot it when they're out at a grocery store and start to feel anxious. 

Could Anxiety Be Affecting The Quality Of Your Decision Making?


In some cases, medication is used to treat anxiety. Several anxiety medications provide short-term relief or help suppress anxiety symptoms through sleepiness. Many people will also attend psychotherapy while taking medications. Medications are not always a long-term solution, and psychotherapy, like CBT or dialectical behavior therapy, can be as effective. In addition, the only provider able to prescribe long-term mental health medications is a psychiatrist or medical doctor. Do not start, change, or stop medication without consulting your doctor or other mental health professionals. 

Lifestyle Changes For Anxiety 

Finding support from a mental health professional can be valuable when living with anxiety symptoms. However, you can make a few at-home lifestyle changes to care for yourself in conjunction with your therapy sessions. 

Breathing Exercises 

Anxiety can cause hyperventilation, a shallow and fast form of breathing. Fast breathing impacts your heart rate, may lead to muscle tension, and can feel distressing. Learning deep breathing techniques can help you regain control when anxiety arises. One common breathing exercise is box breathing, which involves breathing in, holding your breath, breathing out, and then holding your breath again. 


Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the current moment through guided exercises, such as breathing, focusing on your senses, or meditation. It can allow individuals to ground themselves, feel "inside" their body, and reduce distressing symptoms of anxiety or panic. One way to practice mindfulness is by looking for as many items as possible in your favorite color in your room. 


Self-care can include eating healthy foods, practicing sleep hygiene, exercising regularly, practicing mindfulness, or partaking in hobbies. Even being in nature or sitting outside can have mental health benefits.

Counseling Options For Anxiety 

If you feel anxiety negatively impacts your life, you may benefit from counseling. Although the five forms of counseling above are options, there are hundreds of therapy types. When looking for a provider, you can ask your doctor for a referral or do an online search for counselors in your area. If you struggle to afford treatment or can't find a therapist you connect with in your city, you can also try online therapy. 

Through an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can connect with a mental health provider from the comfort of your home. Online therapy also offers individuals a cost-effective way to receive support. When you sign up for a platform, you can choose between phone, video, and live chat sessions and message your therapist any time before or after your appointments.  

If you're unsure about the effectiveness of online therapy, studies have found that certain forms of internet-based treatment, such as mindfulness-based CBT, have been as effective as in-person therapy for treating conditions like anxiety or depression. Online counselors are also required to have licensure and clinical experience to practice. 

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