What Kinds Of Therapy For Anxiety Are There, And Which Is Right For Me?
Updated October 15, 2018
Reviewer Tiffany Howard, LPC, LCADC
Therapy for anxiety can make a major improvement in your life. It isn't always easy to admit your anxiety has reached the point where you can't relieve it adequately on your own. Then, once you realize you do need help, you're faced with the decision of what kind of help to choose. Before you begin looking for a therapist, take a few moments to find out what kinds of anxiety therapy are available and consider which one or more makes the most sense to you.
Types of Therapy for Anxiety
Therapy for anxiety can include talk therapies, skills training, mind-body therapies, desensitization techniques, and others.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is primarily a talk therapy. It's the most commonly-used therapy, particularly for anxiety disorders. The way CBT works is that you identify negative thoughts, challenge their validity, and then replace them with reality-based thoughts. As you work through your store of negative thoughts about the anxiety-provoking situations in your life, you develop a more positive and realistic mindset that helps you face those situations more comfortably.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is designed to help people learn and practice mindfulness and accepting things as they are. Healthy acceptance means seeing things from a realistic, nonjudgmental perspective. In mindfulness practice, you focus on the information you are getting from your five senses to stay grounded in the here and now.
Biofeedback is a type of mind-body therapy in which you learn to recognize and control your physiological responses to stress. A therapist or technician places sensors on you that record your body's responses to stress. Then, with practice, you can learn to slow your heart rate and breathing and relax your muscles whenever you begin to feel anxiety.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy is very effective in teaching people to deal with the stresses that typically lead to anxiety. DBT theory contains an unusual paradox: that you accept things as they are to move towards changing them.
Dialectical behavior therapy is done in individual therapy sessions and group sessions. During the group session, you 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 are exposed to the least frightening aspects of the thing you fear first. With each desensitization session, you get exposure to increasingly vivid and profound aspects of what you fear. However, you are not overwhelmed. Instead, you build your strength to endure this exposure with each small step you take. You'll know systematic desensitization is successful when you can face the object of your fear whenever you need to, without losing your ability to function appropriately in the situation.
Virtual reality therapy is a new form of exposure therapy. You sit in front of a computer display, wear virtual reality equipment, or sit inside a space equipped with audio and video outputs. Whichever way your therapist does this, the point is to be exposed to a situation that causes you anxiety. This method has proven especially helpful for soldiers, first responders, and others who suffer from PTSD due to an experience that is wholly in their past.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is a type of therapy that helps your brain process information in a new way. With eye movements similar to those in REM sleep, your brain can be changed in a way that makes the feared object, situation, or event 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 relaxed state of deep relaxation. This sometimes makes it easier to face and reevaluate your fears.
Interpersonal therapy is one of the briefest types of anxiety therapy. Treatment typically lasts no longer than 16 weeks. This type of therapy has been used extensively for mood disorders, eating disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, and bipolar disorder. 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 depression is also present, this therapy may offer a good option for dealing with the anxiety and depression in the same general ways.
People who suffer from anxiety need to learn healthy ways to relax. No matter what type of therapy you choose, relaxation techniques can help it work better. Some of these techniques include meditation, mindfulness, systematic muscle relaxation, deep breathing, guided imagery, and visualization of positive outcomes.
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 can't get help unless you start somewhere. You can begin by asking yourself a few questions about what seeking help may mean to you.
- How urgent are my anxiety issues?
- Do I have limited time and money to therapy?
- Do I want to work out specific anxiety issues or deal with general patterns of anxiety?
- Do I feel comfortable about 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 for anxiety sparks my interest most?
With so many types of therapy for anxiety available to you, how can you possibly choose the right one? One answer is that you may have to use a trial-and-error process to find out what works best for you. There's one big problem with that, though. That is, 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.
How to Choose a Counselor for Anxiety Therapy
So, what do you do if you still can't decide what type of therapy is best for you? Here's an idea that might work for you: Instead of starting with a specific type of therapy, begin your quest by choosing a therapist.
Once you've selected a therapist, they can help you identify the source(s) and objects of your anxiety. They can explain the type of anxiety you're suffering from, whether generalized anxiety disorder, phobia, PTSD, or some other type. This new information can give you a sense of whether what the therapist you started with is offering the type of treatment that would be best for you.
What if the therapist doesn't do the type of therapy you think you need? One option is to base your choice of therapy on the type of anxiety you are suffering from and choose another therapist who does do that type of therapy. Another is to choose a therapist who specializes in anxiety and uses a mix of several different methods as needed. Or, you can simply stick with the therapist you've already worked with if you feel comfortable and confident that they can help you.
Online Anxiety Therapy
There are probably many local therapists to choose from if you live in a large city. You may have fewer options in a small town or rural community. Through online therapy platforms, you can connect with your choice from the thousands of licensed therapists with different specialties, methods, and treatment styles available right now at BetterHelp.com.
Finding a therapist in your local area who offers the type of anxiety therapy that's best for you isn't easy. The difference in Better Help is that you get the top recommendations of therapists to choose from based on your answers to a very brief questionnaire. You can read their profiles and choose the one that seems best to you. If you decide you'd rather try a different therapist after talking to one therapist, that's easy, too. You can switch at any time, without wasting weeks or months waiting to see a local therapist.
If you're ready to begin your journey toward peace, tranquility, and positivity, why put it off? The road may be a long one. It might be a difficult path to follow. However, with a therapist by your side, you can find your way to a new mindset. Once you learn to look at your fears and your life more realistically and positively, you can claim the health and happiness that lie ahead of you!