Panic disorder is a form of anxiety, and the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective psychological treatments for the condition.
As Accredited Counsellor Darren Magee explains, "A panic disorder usually involves someone repeatedly experiencing panic attacks. The physical sensations that come with the anxiety can feel overwhelming and terrifying, and the disorder can sometimes feel like a fear of the fear." We asked Darren and Accredited Counsellor Maureen Cahill to explain what CBT is and how it can be used to treat panic disorder.
CBT is a form of therapy that looks at how thoughts and beliefs influence mood and behaviour. It works through a therapeutic alliance, which looks at specific thoughts and thought patterns, often anxious or negative, and how they influence you. Once this has been done, it is helpful to learn how those thoughts can be challenged to affect change, adjust behaviours and decrease anxiety.
At the very core of anxiety and panic is often a feeling of helplessness, or of having no control over something important, so CBT can help to educate you about your panic. The old saying ‘knowledge is power' can ring true; as you begin to understand more about the condition, the more empowered you may feel. The feelings and sensations associated with the panic can become normalised, which can make them feel less intense. This understanding can be helpful in recognising unhelpful thinking habits which fuel your anxiety and panic. CBT is also useful for helping you identify triggers, recognising thinking habits, and developing coping strategies, such as reframing and relaxation exercises. Through these exercises, you can learn that it is not about completely eliminating the anxiety but riding that wave until it passes.
NICE recommends around 7-14 hours of CBT for panic disorder.
CBT seems to work most effectively with someone who can engage with the dynamism of this approach - i.e. there will be behavioural experiments and/or other techniques to complete as 'homework' outside the sessions.
After a dozen sessions, clients can usually feel more confident about managing anxiety and panic attacks. It may help you recognise the early symptoms of anxiety and panic. Quite often the unpredictability of panic attacks is both frightening and debilitating, so learning to recognise the signs as early as possible can be empowering.
All therapists on rscpp.co.uk are accredited, registered or chartered by a UK professional body. Therapists who offer Cognitive Behavioural Therapy will in addition have completed a course in cognitive behavioural practice.
RSCPP Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Richard Snowdon