5 Types of Therapy that Help with Anxiety Disorders

Five Effective Therapies for Anxiety Disorders

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Exposure Therapy
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy
  • ACT Therapy

Because anxiety is a multifaceted issue with a number of differing causes, disorders in this category benefit from therapies tailored to treat the specific root of anxiety. Most or all of these approaches omit medication unless the particular case warrants such assistance. Instead, an emphasis is placed on attaining a deeper understanding of the type of anxiety the patient experiences and drawing them in as an active participant in their own treatment.

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1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT is a blended approach consisting of both cognitive and behavioral theories. This means that the therapist identifies the underlying issues with the participation of the client as part of a deeper understanding of how the brain works. Once patterns are identified, skills are presented during sessions that the patient practices between sessions, effectively resetting or overwriting undesirable anxiety responses with positive life skills and approaches. Behavior homework serves to render the new ideas discussed in therapy into patterns that will become nearly automatic over time. Because the patient is consciously involved in making the therapy a success, this approach offers a sense of personal empowerment that may also contribute to the positive outcomes.

2. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Anxiety.org asserts that while DBT is a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, it places less emphasis on actively replacing or changing existing thought. Instead, patients and therapists view these thoughts and patterns as symptoms, which constitute one half of the issue. Drawing on the philosophical tenet of the dialectic, in which two truths are directly opposed, and the practice of mindfulness, patients are encouraged to assess and understand circumstances as they are in the immediate moment. They examine their feelings about them but do not actively seek to change those circumstances. Then, they plot out a better reaction for future occurrences of the situation—whether it is related to anxiety, depression, or fear.

3. Exposure Therapy

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, this approach is best used with the source of anxiety is well known, such as with specific phobias, separation anxiety, agoraphobia and other, less generalized types of anxiety disorder. While it is considered a form of CBT, it actively draws on lived experiences rather than simple mental exercises. Essentially, the therapist gradually exposes a client to a situation or stimulus that triggers their anxiety symptoms. As therapy progresses, sensitivity to these triggers lessens. Concomitantly, the duration or intensity of the exercises is increased.

4. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy

This therapy is used in special circumstances. Research indicates that, especially in instances of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), of which anxiety is symptomatic, the therapy can be beneficial. The premise rests on two factors: First, the therapist guides exercise that control or direct eye motion in a way similar to that experienced during active dreaming or Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. This acts on the other factor. Those who experience PTSD are known to re-experience a short span of traumatic time on a recurring loop. EMDR therapy helps to break that loop. Similarly, therapists are using EMDR to help treat phobias and specific anxiety disorders.

5. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Much like CBT and DBT, ACT is a therapy based on acceptance of situations. It is paired with a learned understanding that thoughts or behaviors perceived as problematic may not require changing and trains the client or patient to focus on positive courses of action that embrace the aforementioned acceptance. It removes focus from reactive behavior to generative or positive internally motivated behavior.

While the treatment of many behavioral disorders benefits from medication as an aid to action, anxiety may be best served by actively enlisting the help of the patient in their own treatment. That’s why the five highly effective strategies discussed above are the first choice of therapists for treating anxiety disorders.