Obsessive-compulsive disorder; Panic disorder; Phobias; Post-traumatic stress disorder
The goal of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is to regain control of reactions to stress and stimuli, thus reducing the feeling of helplessness that often accompanies anxiety disorders. CBT works on the principle that the thoughts that produce and maintain anxiety can be recognized and altered using various techniques that change behavioral responses and eliminate the anxiety reaction.
CBT and medication are each effective alone but many studies have shown that a combination of CBT and medication is the best approach for treating anxiety disorders. Combination CBT and medication is particularly effective for children and adolescents. Evidence clearly supports the combination approachâ ' s benefits for treating pediatric cases of generalized anxiety disorder, separation anxiety, social phobia, and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Studies suggest that CBT is also helpful for patients who have additional conditions, such as depression, a second anxiety disorder, or alcohol dependency. (It may take longer to achieve a successful outcome in such cases, however.) CBT is often given along with drug treatment.
Both individual and group treatments work well. (However, people with social phobia may do better in individual sessions.) Several recent studies also indicate that telephone-based behavioral therapy works well for people with OCD, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorders.
Anxiety disorders are chronic and recurrence is common, even after successful short-term therapy. Some patients with anxiety disorders may require long-term or intensive therapy of at least a year or 50 sessions. Medications, then, are also generally recommended for most patients.
Basic Cognitive Therapy Techniques. Treatment usually takes about 12 - 20 weeks. The essential goal of cognitive therapy is to understand the realities of an anxiety-provoking situation and to respond to reality with new actions based on reasonable expectations.
Systematic Desensitization. Systematic desensitization is a specific technique that breaks the link between the anxiety-provoking stimulus and the anxiety response. This treatment requires the patient to gradually confront the object of fear. There are three main elements to the process:
This treatment is especially effective for simple phobias, social phobias, agoraphobia, and post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Exposure and Response Treatment. Exposure treatment purposefully generates anxiety by exposing the patient repeatedly to the feared object or situation, either literally or using imagination and visualization. It uses the most fearful stimulus first. (This differs from the desensitization process because it does not involve relaxation or a gradual approach to the source of anxiety.)
Exposure treatments are usually known as either flooding or graduated exposure:
In both cases, the patient experiences the anxiety over and over until the stimulating event eventually loses its effect. Combining exposure with standard cognitive therapy may be particularly beneficial. This approach has helped certain patients in most anxiety disorder categories, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
Modeling Treatment. Phobias can often be treated successfully with modeling treatment:
Other forms of psychotherapy, commonly called emotion-based psychotherapy (EBT), psychodynamic therapy, or "talk" therapy, deal more with childhood roots of anxiety and usually, although not always, require longer treatments. They include interpersonal therapy, supportive psychotherapy, attention intervention, and psychoanalysis. All work is done during the sessions. Some research indicates that such therapies might be more useful for generalized anxiety, which may require more sustained work to process and recover from early traumas and fears. Studies suggest that although emotion-based psychotherapies are not as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in treating panic disorders, patients tend to stay longer in EBT than in CBT. Some doctors suggest adding elements of EBT to the usual CBT and medication treatments.
Relaxation Training. Relaxation techniques use muscle relaxation and mental visualization to help focus attention towards a calming feeling. Some people find meditation helpful.
Breathing Retraining. Breathing retraining techniques may help reduce the physical effects of anxiety. For example, hyperventilation is one of the primary physical manifestations of panic disorders. This involves rapid, tense breathing, resulting in chest pain, dizziness, tingling of the mouth and fingers, muscle cramps, and even fainting. By practicing measured, controlled breathing at the onset of a panic attack, patients may be able to prevent full attacks.
Biofeedback. Biofeedback uses special sensors that allow patients to recognize anxiety states by changes in specific physical functions, such as changes in pulse rate, skin temperatures, and muscle tone. Eventually they learn to modify these changes, which in turn helps relieve anxiety. While commonly used, there are not many rigorous studies showing that biofeedback helps patients reduce or eliminate their symptoms over the long term.
Several types of psychological treatments have been designed specifically for treating patients with PTSD. These approaches include a special type of CBT known as trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TFCBT), and a psychotherapy treatment called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
With TFCBT, patients are taught stress management skills. The therapist helps the patient develop a narrative (verbal, written, or artistic) about the traumatic event. Patients may be exposed to reminders about the trauma and are taught how to cope with future reminders. Through the process, the patient learns how to reprocess their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
With EMDR, the patient focuses on remembering the traumatic experience while visually following the rhythmic movement of the therapistâ ' s fingers. The patient recounts to the therapist what memories have been provoked during the exercise. EMDR may help patients recall details and sensations that they had blocked out. Through this breakthrough, patients learn how to regain emotional control.
Generally, manufacturers of herbal remedies and dietary supplements do not need FDA approval to sell their products. Just like a drug, herbs and supplements can affect the body's chemistry, and therefore have the potential to produce side effects that may be harmful. There have been a number of reported cases of serious and even lethal side effects from herbal products. Always check with your doctor before using any herbal remedies or dietary supplements.
Some studies suggest that the dietary supplement inositol may have benefits for panic disorder and, possibly, obsessive compulsive disorder. Inositol is part of the vitamin B complex.
Some patients use aromatherapy as a relaxation aid. Aromatherapy is in general safe, but some plant extracts in these formulas have been linked to skin allergies.
There is no evidence supporting the efficacy of valerian, St. John's wort, or passionflower for treatment of anxiety. The herbal remedy kava has been associated with liver problems and should be avoided. Kava can also interact dangerously with medications that are metabolized by the liver.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) uses high frequency magnetic pulses to target and stimulate specific areas of the brain. Research has particularly focused on possible benefits for obsessive-compulsive behavior. Some studies have found some improvement in mood, but more research is needed to determine its value for reducing anxiety and obsessions.
In 2006, the U.S. National Institutes of Health funded a large study to examine whether deep brain stimulation (DBS) can help patients with OCD. DBS involves implanting tiny stimulators into the brain to block abnormal nerve signals that cause obsessive symptoms. These â€śbrain pacemakersâ€ť are approved to treat epilepsy and Parkinsonâ ' s disease. Researchers hope that DBS may eventually provide a new treatment option for patients with severe OCD.
A surgical technique called cingulotomy involves interrupting the cingulate gyrus, a bundle of nerve fibers in the front of the brain. It is sometimes used as a last resort for patients with severe OCD. A variation of this procedure using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to guide the surgeon has resulted in long-term improvement in about 25 - 33% of OCD patients in whom it is performed. The procedure is generally safe with few serious complications and does not affect intellect or memory.
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