How Does Therapy Help With Anxiety? Understanding the Methods and Benefits

Medically reviewed by: Wendy Rasmussen, PhD
Wednesday, June 7 2023

According to the American Psychiatric Association, anxiety disorders affect approximately 30% of adults at some point.

Anxiety disorders can come in several forms — from generalized anxiety disorder to social anxiety disorder to panic disorder — and treating anxiety is essential to improving your mental health. Thankfully, talk therapy is a highly effective treatment for the various forms of anxiety

In this article, we'll cover what you should know about treating anxiety and how working with mental health professionals to treat it can help you achieve a better quality of life.

What are the types of interventions used to treat anxiety?

Several types of therapy are used to treat anxiety, and which is best for you will depend on the type of anxiety disorder you have and your unique situation and needs. When you schedule a therapy session to treat anxiety, here are the different treatment options that you may be offered:

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)

CBT is the most widely employed treatment method for anxiety and addresses how your thoughts and behaviors affect your anxiety. CBT typically entails a combination of goal setting and talk therapy, and is designed to help you identify and challenge negative thoughts and behaviors that are causing you anxiety.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

DBT is similar to CBT in that both types of therapy focus on the negative thought patterns that lead to anxiety. But rather than eliminating these negative thoughts, DBT focuses on helping patients accept and work through them. DBT is designed to teach you the cognitive and emotional skills to tackle difficult emotions in your daily life.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR therapy is used to treat forms of anxiety and can also be used in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In this type of therapy, patients are instructed to focus on the trauma memory while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimuli, which activates the brain like rapid eye movement (REM) sleep does. This form of therapy reduces the vividness and unpleasantness of trauma memories.

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is designed to reduce the anxiety a patient associates with certain objects and situations by exposing them to those triggers in a comfortable, controlled environment. 

This type of therapy is commonly used to treat phobia disorders and can help make people more comfortable with the things that cause them fear and anxiety.

Interpersonal therapy (IPT)

Interpersonal therapy is a short-term approach that focuses on helping patients navigate the stress that can come with interacting with others. This type of therapy is designed to help foster healthier relationships and social interactions.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is a type of therapy that combines cognitive behavioral therapy with mindfulness and a focus on developing an attitude of acceptance. This type of therapy addresses thoughts and behaviors that cause anxiety while teaching relaxation techniques and the importance of present-oriented non-judgmental mindfulness.

Understanding common types of anxiety disorders

One of the reasons there are so many different approaches to treating anxiety is the fact that anxiety can come in numerous different forms. Here are the most common types of anxiety disorders that therapy can help with:

Generalized anxiety disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder is the most common type of anxiety disorder, characterized by persistent worry and anxiety. These feelings can be rooted in any number of issues, from health problems to finances to relationships. 

People living with generalized anxiety disorder often can't shake the feeling that something bad is about to happen to them. Along with persistent feelings of anxiousness and worry, generalized anxiety disorder often manifests physical symptoms such as restlessness, muscle tension, and sleep problems.

Panic disorder

People who have a panic disorder are prone to experiencing frequent panic attacks. These panic attacks are marked by symptoms such as sweating, rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, and a severe feeling of fear or dread. 

External events may trigger panic attacks, however, they can also occur suddenly and without warning. This makes the disorder even more challenging to live with since people with a panic disorder often worry about when the next panic attack will occur.

Social anxiety disorder

Social anxiety disorder is a phobia-related anxiety disorder that causes people to experience stress and anxiety in social situations. People with social phobias often feel self-conscious around others and fear that they will be embarrassed or judged. 

Social anxiety disorder is often an especially debilitating type of phobia-related disorder since the triggers for social anxiety disorder are impossible to avoid while still living a normal, healthy life.

Phobia-related disorders

Phobia-related disorders are characterized by intense fear associated with certain objects and situations. A few common phobias include:

  • Acrophobia (fear of heights)
  • Arachnophobia (fear of spiders)
  • Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes)
  • Claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces)

Separation anxiety disorders

Separation anxiety disorders are characterized by an intense sense of worry and anxiousness when the patient is separated from someone they are close to (like a child who experiences separation anxiety when separated from their parents). Separation anxiety is more common in adolescents but can affect adults and adult relationships as well.

The overall benefits of therapy for anxiety

Therapy can be highly effective at reducing symptoms of anxiety and providing those who live with it with the tools and skills they need to live a healthier, happier life. Here are some of the top benefits of working with a therapist to treat your anxiety disorder:

Learn lifelong coping skills

Therapy doesn't just treat anxiety in the moment; it provides people with coping skills they can lean on for the rest of their life — even after they no longer need to meet with their therapist. These lifelong coping skills are one of the biggest benefits of seeking therapy for anxiety and can help you improve numerous aspects of your mental health throughout your life.

Increased self-awareness

One of the benefits of therapy is that it helps you learn more about yourself. By learning what triggers your anxiety and why, you can better develop the lifelong coping and problem-solving skills you need for a healthier, happier life. You'll also better understand your mind as it relates to anxiety and other aspects of your life, giving you greater overall self-awareness.

Reframing and challenging negative thought patterns

Negative thought patterns are one common cause of anxiety, and once you get started down a funnel of negative thoughts, it can often be challenging to pull yourself out. Many types of treatment for anxiety are designed to reframe and challenge these negative thought patterns so that you can replace them with a healthier, more positive outlook.

Improved communication skills and relationships

Anxiety is a condition that can impact your relationships, making it difficult to communicate and interact with other people. Along with helping reduce the severity of your anxiety so that it won't have as big of an impact on your relationships with others, therapy for anxiety can also provide you with the communication skills you need to explain your thoughts and struggles to the people in your life so that they can support you better.

Better physical well-being

Anxiety is a mental health condition that can often manifest physical symptoms, including headaches, muscle tension, insomnia, rapid heart rate, and digestive issues. Working with a therapist to treat your anxiety may not only improve your mental health, but your physical health as well.

Who should I see for anxiety?

People living with anxiety can meet with different types of mental health professionals. A therapist will utilize the various therapy methods we discussed earlier in the article to treat anxiety and can teach coping skills they can use long after their therapy sessions are over. However, a therapist cannot prescribe medication for anxiety or other disorders.

A psychiatric provider, meanwhile, is authorized to prescribe anxiety medication, and medication management is often a psychiatric provider's primary role. However, many psychiatric providers will also provide therapy services in addition to helping their patients find the right medication.

If you feel that you need medication to help manage your anxiety, you may want to go ahead and meet with a psychiatric provider or your primary care provider. However, attempting therapy first is often advisable, and your therapist can refer you to a psychiatric provider if they feel that medication is the best solution for you.

Match with the right therapist for you with SonderMind

At SonderMind, we make scheduling appointments with a therapist or psychiatrist easy. After filling out a brief questionnaire, SonderMind matches you with an in-person or online therapist or psychiatrist who perfectly fits your needs and preferences.

The last thing that someone living with anxiety should have to deal with is stress related to finding the right therapist. If you would like to find the right therapist or psychiatrist for you quickly, easily, and effectively, get started with SonderMind to get matched with a mental health provider.

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