Anxiety Disorders: Theories and Therapies
Our knowledge about successful treatment for anxiety disorders continues to advance at an accelerated rate due to the hundreds of past and ongoing research studies. Many of these studies are dedicated to testing and developing effective treatment approaches. In fact, anxiety disorders are often considered to be one of the most treatable psychiatric conditions; meaning, treatment is highly likely to produce a positive outcome (i.e., a reduction in symptoms). Not only do we know what does work, but research has also identified what does not work. Results consistently indicate that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective treatment strategy for treating a variety of conditions including anxiety disorders (Deacon & Abramowitz, 2004; Norton & Price, 2007; Stewart & Chamblass, 2009). Other therapeutic strategies which are not systematic, or scientifically tested, tend to be ineffective for anxiety disorders. This includes supportive psychotherapy (often thought of as "talk therapy") and psychodynamic/ psychoanalytic therapy. These approaches may be effective for other issues, but do not tend to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is different from some of the earlier therapies in that its primary focus is on the current moment-in-time or the "here and now," rather than on the past, or the "there and then." It assumes that persons-in-recovery can make progress by recognizing, understanding, and changing dysfunctional thoughts, emotions, and behaviors; without having to unearth the past in order to determine the origins of their symptoms. It is assumed and accepted that these dysfunctional patterns have been "learned" and reinforced during prior life experiences, and therefore, can be "unlearned" in the present through new experiences.
Before we review specific cognitive-behavioral treatment techniques for each anxiety disorder (Treatment for Anxiety Disorders Section), it is helpful to briefly review the major theoretical underpinnings of the cognitive-behavioral therapeutic approach: namely, Behavioral Learning Theory, and Cognitive Theory.