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Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as a treatment for panic disorder

by Sarah Graham
Monday 29 June 2015
2083 10963

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.

What is CBT and how does it work?

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.

Accredited Counsellor Maureen Cahill

How can CBT be applied to treating panic disorder?

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.

Accredited Counsellor Darren Magee

How long does CBT for panic disorder typically last?

NICE recommends around 7-14 hours of CBT for panic disorder. 


Who is CBT suitable for?

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.

Accredited Counsellor Maureen Cahill

What outcome can you expect from CBT as a treatment for panic disorder? 

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. 

Accredited Counsellor Maureen Cahill


How can I tell if a therapist is qualified to offer CBT for panic disorder? 

All therapists on 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

Finding support

You can find out more about symptoms and causes of Panic Disorder, including how to find a therapist. If this route is not appropriate for you, your GP can assess you and direct you towards support.

Find a Therapist working with Panic Disorder

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Updated 06 July 2015