Eight Types Of Therapy For Anxiety

Updated February 1, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Over 40 million US adults are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. With so many Americans experiencing this condition, many treatments are available. Untreated anxiety can affect your physical health, relationships, and career, so reaching out for help can be beneficial. Additionally, over 47% of those diagnosed with anxiety already see a therapist in the US, showing treatment may be beneficial. 

Depending on your specific symptoms, therapists may use several therapeutic techniques and strategies. These are customized to help you face some of the issues that result from your anxiety and teach you how to cope with your reactions. People respond differently to specific methods, so find an approach that works for you and discuss your treatment goals with your provider. You may cycle through several methods before you find one that helps you. Below are eight modalities to research in more depth.

There Are Many Ways To Treat Anxiety

Types Of Therapy For Anxiety

There are multiple types of anxiety disorders, and multiple therapies are designed to treat anxiety. A few of the anxiety disorders listed in the DSM-5 include: 

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) 

  • Social anxiety disorder

  • Separation anxiety disorder

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Panic Disorder

  • Specific phobias 

Although post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was once considered an anxiety disorder, it is listed in the DSM-5 as a stress-related condition. According to studies, symptoms of various anxiety disorders may include:

  • Feeling restless

  • Difficulty focusing

  • Irritability

  • Fatigue 

  • Frequent worrying 

  • Insomnia or other sleep disorders 

  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, and stomach aches

Types of therapy for anxiety can involve talking therapies, skills training, psychodynamic therapy, mind-body therapies, and desensitization techniques, among others. All the types of therapy for anxiety highlighted may take the form of individual or group therapy sessions.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly known as talk therapy. This type of therapy is frequently used for anxiety disorders. CBT works by helping you identify negative thoughts and behaviors to replace them with healthy thoughts and actions. 

As you work through the full scope of negative thoughts that may cause anxiety, you can develop a more positive outlook to face anxiety-provoking situations with ease and comfort. CBT is a therapy commonly used by therapists, counselors, and other mental health professionals for reducing symptoms associated with many mental health conditions, including depression. It may also treat stress, relationship concerns, and life difficulties. 

Acceptance And Commitment Therapy (ACT) 

Acceptance and commitment therapy is designed to help people learn and practice mindfulness to accept present reality and commit to well-being. Healthy acceptance may mean considering a realistic, non-judgmental perspective. In mindfulness practice, you can focus on the information you receive from your five senses to help you stay grounded in the present. 

ACT may also help individuals challenge the feelings of intense dread that anxiety often provokes. The theory behind this treatment is that clients can rest in the knowledge that they are not in danger and prevent overwhelming feelings or future anxiety attacks from taking over the body or mind. 

Biofeedback

Biofeedback is a type of mind-body therapy in which you learn to recognize and control your physiological responses to stress. A trained therapist places sensors on your skin to record your body's responses to stressful stimuli. With practice, you can learn to slow your heart rate and breathing and practice progressive muscle relaxation whenever you feel anxious. This type of therapy may take time, but it can be beneficial for reducing stress and anxiety in the long term. 

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) 

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is often effective in teaching people to face overwhelming emotions that may lead to anxiety. It involves modules and worksheets on mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional control, and interpersonal connectedness. In each module, you may learn new coping mechanisms for various symptoms of emotional distress and anxiety. 

Dialectical behavior therapy occurs in both individual and group therapy sessions. During a group session, you may learn to practice mindfulness and other coping skills to reduce anxiety. Additionally, group skills sessions may allow you to connect with others who experience similar symptoms. DBT can treat social anxiety, separation anxiety, and other anxiety disorders.

Exposure And Response Prevention (ERP) And Systematic Desensitization

Exposure therapy allows you to face the triggers of your anxiety. It is often effective in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Types of exposure therapy can include systematic desensitization and virtual reality therapy. Systematic desensitization involves intentional and controlled exposure to the least frightening aspects of what you fear, increasing exposure over time. A therapist may track your anxiety levels and progress during this exercise.  

One technique of exposure therapy involves imaginal exposure. As the name implies, this can involve imagining your triggers and fears and focusing on them until your anxiety symptoms decline. Exposure is a safe but effective way to desensitize people to their triggers. Each subsequent session may expose you to increasingly vivid and profound aspects of what you fear. 

Although it may be scary to face triggers, your therapist will work with you to not overwhelm you initially. Instead, you may increase your ability to endure exposure with each minor step. You may feel that systematic desensitization is successful when you can face the object you fear without losing your ability to function appropriately. The only requirement for trying this therapy can include willingness to attempt the process.

Virtual Reality Therapy

Another type of therapy for anxiety disorders is virtual reality therapy. Virtual reality therapy is a new form of exposure therapy involving sitting in front of a computer display and wearing virtual reality equipment. During therapy sessions, you may be virtually exposed to a situation that causes you anxiety, so you can learn to tolerate it in a safe setting. 

Virtual reality exposure has proven effective for soldiers, first responders, and others experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. You might also partake in this therapy in a CAVE environment. The CAVE room has screens on each side, allowing clients to target fears through an immersive environment that feels like an actual situation. This therapy may be effective for treating phobias of heights or flying. 

Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy that helps your brain learn to process information in a new way. By engaging in eye movements similar to REM sleep, your brain can be changed, so the feared object, situation, or event is far less distressing to you. This therapy has been helpful for people with PTSD, panic disorder, or phobias such as social anxiety disorder.

Interpersonal Therapy

Interpersonal therapy is a shorter type of anxiety therapy. Treatment may last no more than 16 weeks to resolve conflicts within current interpersonal relationships. 

Interpersonal therapy might be advantageous for you if your anxiety is most evident in your platonic, family, or romantic relationships. Additionally, if you are experiencing symptoms of depression, this method may be effective for your depressive symptoms. This therapy has been used for mood disorders, eating disorders, substance dependency, and bipolar disorder.

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.

There Are Many Ways To Treat Anxiety

Choosing An Anxiety Therapy Modality 

You may find it challenging to decide which therapies work best for you. However, begin by asking yourself a few questions:

  • How urgent is it that I attend therapy? 

  • Do I have limited time and money for therapy?

  • Do I want to address specific anxiety issues or general behaviors? 

  • Do I feel comfortable discussing my problems one-on-one or in a group?

  • Would my life be easier to manage if I had more skills to rely on?

  • Do I have more confidence in talk therapies or mind-body therapies?

  • Which type of therapy sparks my interest most?

With many options available, you may use a trial-and-error process to determine what works best for you. Give each process a few sessions before deciding. You can also discuss your options with your potential therapist to understand them more profoundly.

Counseling Options 

If you are experiencing overwhelming or debilitating anxiety symptoms, you may struggle with seeing a therapist in-person. Additionally, making appointments, commuting, and organizing billing can be challenging for many. In these cases, online therapy may function as a beneficial alternative. You can consider an affordable online therapy platform like BetterHelp to connect with thousands of licensed therapists with various specialties, methods, and treatment styles. 

study published in 2016 found that internet-based therapy for anxiety is as effective for children and adolescents as traditional therapy. Another study published in 2018 found that 70% of individuals who participated in internet-delivered cognitive-behavioral therapy (iCBT) reported a significant reduction of adverse symptoms and high levels of recovery and satisfaction with the program. Around 60% of the participants completed the program, and half of the participants noted that therapeutic mindfulness techniques were as effective as CBT.

Counselor Reviews

"I have been working with Rebecca for a couple of months now. When I signed up for counseling I was going through anxiety, panic attacks and depression and had hit a real low point. I had become overwhelmed by a complex life situation that I just couldn't figure out and felt I needed professional help. Rebecca has made a huge difference and continues to make a positive impact on my recovery. She is able to both listen and prompt with thought provoking and challenging questions to help us get to the heart of the matter and start to unpick things from there. She emphasizes and encourages self care and I feel so much more healthy and balanced as a result. We chat once a week and the flexibility of phone sessions and a wide variety of appointment times means I can fit around my schedule. Rebecca also encouraged me to journal regularly and will respond to messages promptly so I know I have support there when I need it. I regularly receive articles that relate to my situation or techniques of dealing with stressful situations. I feel Rebecca understands and cares and would be happy to recommend her."

"I have had many therapists in past 10 years and they have all been helpful, but my experience with Lauren has been transformative. She is bold when necessary and honest, but she always wants to let you make the choices you choose. She always wants you to be healthy first and foremost. She provides goal settings, cognitive behavioral therapy, help with anxiety and will be honest if more support is needed than just online therapy."

Takeaway

Therapy for anxiety symptoms can be a convenient way to prioritize your mental health. Above are eight therapy modalities you can try. If you are still unsure, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for further guidance and support. 

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