What Kinds Of Therapy For Anxiety Are There, And Which Is Right For Me?
By: Dylan Buckley
Updated October 21, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Dutil
Therapy for anxiety can dramatically improve your life. It isn't always easy to admit when your anxiety has reached the point where you can't handle it on your own, but sometimes you need help. Once you realize this, you may not be sure where to turn. Before you begin looking for a therapist, it may help to learn about different kinds of anxiety therapy, so you can think about which one makes the most sense for you.
From talk therapies to exposure therapies, therapists can use many different strategies to help you face some of the issues that give you anxiety and teach you how to cope with your reactions. People respond differently to various methods, so you may find an approach that works for you as soon as you start therapy or you may cycle through several methods before you find one that helps you. No matter what, it's important to know that there's something out there that will work for you. In this article, we'll look at some of your options.
Types of Therapy for Anxiety
Therapy for anxiety can involve talk therapies, skills training, mind-body therapies, desensitization techniques, and much more.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly known as talk therapy, and it's the most commonly-used therapy, particularly for anxiety disorders. CBT works by helping you identify negative thoughts and behaviors, so you can challenge their validity. Then it helps you replace these negative thoughts with more realistic ones. As you work through the full scope of negative thoughts that cause anxiety in your life, you'll develop a more positive and realistic mindset to help you face anxiety-provoking situations with greater ease and comfort.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is designed to help people learn and practice mindfulness, so they can accept things as they are. Healthy acceptance means seeing things from a realistic, nonjudgmental perspective. In mindfulness practice, you focus on the information you receive from your five senses to help you stay grounded in the here and now. This also helps you challenge the feelings of intense dread that anxiety often provokes. When you know you're not in danger, you can help prevent overwhelming feelings and future attacks from taking over your body and mind.
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 you to record your body's responses to stressful stimuli. Then, with practice, you can learn to slow your heart rate and breathing and relax your muscles whenever you begin to feel anxiety. This type of therapy will take time, but it can be beneficial for certain individuals.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is very effective in teaching people to deal with the overwhelming emotions that typically lead to anxiety. The theory behind this method contains an unusual paradox: it suggests that you have to accept things as they are to move toward changing them.
Dialectical behavior therapy occurs in both individual therapy and group sessions. During a group session, you'll learn to practice mindfulness as a means of reducing anxiety. Also, group skills sessions teach you to tolerate distress, regulate your emotions, and become more interpersonally effective.
Exposure Therapy and Systematic Desensitization
Exposure therapy gives you the opportunity to face whatever provokes your anxiety. Types of exposure therapy include systematic desensitization and virtual reality therapy. In systematic desensitization, you're first exposed to the least frightening aspects of the thing you fear. With each subsequent session, you'll be exposed to increasingly vivid and profound aspects of what you fear. However, you're unlikely to be overwhelmed. Instead, you increase your ability to endure this exposure with each small step you take. You'll know systematic desensitization is successful when you can face the object you fear without losing your ability to function appropriately in the situation.
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Virtual reality therapy is a new form of exposure therapy. In a typical session, you'll sit in front of a computer display and wear virtual reality equipment, or you'll sit inside a space equipped with audio and video outputs. In either setup, you'll be virtually exposed to a situation that causes you anxiety, so you can learn to tolerate it in a safe setting. This method has proven especially helpful for soldiers, first responders, and others who suffer from PTSD.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of therapy that helps your brain learn to process information in a new way. With eye movements similar to those in REM sleep, your brain can be changed, so the feared object, situation, or event is far less distressing to you. This type of therapy has been helpful for people with PTSD, panic attacks, or phobias.
Hypnosis is rarely used as the primary therapy for anxiety. However, it's sometimes used in conjunction with another therapy, such as CBT. In hypnotherapy, the therapist works with you while you're in a state of deep relaxation. This sometimes makes it easier to face and reevaluate your fears.
Interpersonal therapy is one of the shortest types of anxiety therapy. Treatment typically lasts no more than 16 weeks, and the goal is to resolve conflicts within current interpersonal relationships. If your anxiety is most evident in your social, family, or romantic relationships, interpersonal therapy might be right for you. Also, if you're experiencing depression, this method may help you in the same general ways. This type of therapy has been used extensively for mood disorders, eating disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, and bipolar disorder.
People who suffer from anxiety need to learn healthy ways to relax. No matter what type of therapy you choose, relaxation techniques can enhance the effects. Some of these techniques include meditation, mindfulness, systematic muscle relaxation, deep breathing, guided imagery, and visualization of positive outcomes.
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How Do I Choose the Right Anxiety Therapy for Me?
You may find it difficult to decide which of these therapies will work best for you. After all, you've only had a brief introduction to each type of anxiety therapy. Still, you have to start somewhere. You can begin by asking yourself a few questions:
- How urgent are my anxiety issues?
- Do I have limited time and money for therapy?
- Do I want to work out specific anxiety issues or deal with general patterns of anxiety?
- 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 so many options available, you may have to use a trial-and-error process to find out what works best for you. That said, unless you commit to staying in treatment long enough to see results, you won't know whether the therapy you've tried has had a chance to work. If you're trying multiple approaches, be sure to give each enough time. In addition, you'll need to trust that your therapist will choose the approach that works best for you based on your responsiveness and progress in previous sessions. That's why it's so important to choose the right professional to support you.
How to Choose a Counselor for Anxiety Therapy
If, after reading this article, you're still not sure which type of therapy is best for you, you can begin your quest by choosing a therapist. When you start working with a licensed therapist, they can help you identify the source(s) and objects of your anxiety. Then, they'll be able to explain the type of anxiety you're suffering from, whether it's generalized anxiety disorder, a phobia, or another related mental health issue. With this information, you'll be able to work together to develop a treatment plan.
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What if the therapist you choose doesn't offer the type of therapy you think you need? In this case, you may need to choose another therapist based on your specific type of anxiety or the treatment method you prefer. You might want to consider a therapist who specializes in general anxiety and uses a mix of several different methods as needed. However, if you don't want to switch, you don't have to. It's okay to stick with your current therapist if you feel comfortable with them and are confident they can help you.
How to Cope With Anxiety in the Meantime
There's a lot of work that goes into managing anxiety, and some of it happens at home. Here are some tips that will help you cope when your therapist isn't around to guide you through exercises.
Embrace Acceptance and Evaluate Your Situation
Anxiety makes us want to run, but peace can be found in acceptance. When we embrace the situation and accept what is happening, we can better evaluate what's going on around and within us. What are the outcomes? What's going to happen? Calmly look at the big picture. In most situations, you'll find there's nothing to be extremely nervous about. This perspective can help calm down your anxiety when it becomes overwhelming.
Take a Break
Anxiety is a mental health problem that needs to be taken seriously. If you need to take a break because your anxiety is getting to you, know that it's okay to take a break. Sit down and take some time to meditate or engage in deep breathing exercises. Try bring yourself back to a calm, grounded state. When anxiety becomes too much, centering yourself and resting for at least a few minutes can make it much easier to get through the day.
Know That Your Anxiety Can't Hurt You
General anxiety and panic attacks can be scary, but they're not physically threatening. When you feel intense worry coming on, remind yourself that your anxiety poses no risk to you and that you're in a safe situation. The only way you're going to potentially put yourself in danger is if you let your anxiety get the best of you and override your common sense!
Consider Online Therapy
If you live in a large city, there are probably many local therapists to choose from. However, you may have fewer options in a small town or rural community. Either way, you might want to consider an online therapy platform like BetterHelp.com where you can connect with thousands of licensed therapists who have different specialties, methods, and treatment styles.
When you're ready to get started, all you have to do is take a quick online questionnaire. Furthermore, you don't have to worry about waiting weeks or months or weeks before your first appointment. You'll be able to connect with them online or on the phone at your convenience. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.
"I have been working with Rebecca for a couple of months now. When I signed up for counseling I was suffering with 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."
Anxiety can dramatically impact your life, but it doesn't have to stop you from living. Free yourself from stress and fear by learning more about the options at your disposal. Then reach out to a qualified mental health professional who can help you implement these changes.