Tool Module: Treating Anxiety Disorders
kinds of therapies used to alleviate and sometimes even cure the various anxiety
disorders can be divided into two main categories: 1) drug therapies, which use
medications; and 2) various forms of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which
is a type of psychotherapy.
1) Drug Therapies
When patients are experiencing so much anxiety that it interferes with their daily
activities, medication may be necessary. In such cases, doctors usually prescribe
antidepressants, and in particular a family of drugs known as
selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), among which Prozac is perhaps
the best known.
Anxiolytics are another family of medications
prescribed for anxiety disorders. Benzodiazepines belong to this group; they must
be prescribed with caution, because they can lead to a certain form of habituation.
There is only one group of anxiety disorders on which medications seem
to have little effect: specific phobias.
2) Cognitive Behavioural
The various forms of cognitive behavioural therapy
(CBT) seem to be effective for every kind of anxiety disorder. They are designed
to give patients the tools they need to confront their anxiety symptoms and eventually
control them—for example, by restructuring their thoughts so as to interpret
their experience in a more rational, less anxiety-producing manner.
Another method that has proven effective is to expose patients to the things or
situations that make them anxious, but only gradually, in a setting that feels
secure. Psychotherapists also use relaxation techniques and meditation as methods
of helping people to control their anxiety by controlling their breathing.
* * *
More recently, some psychotherapists have begun trying out
other methods of treating anxiety disorders. One of the more controversial of
these methods is known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
In EMDR, patients gradually recall disturbing emotional memories while concentrating
on an external stimulus that helps them to reproduce the lateral eye movements
that occur spontaneously during dreaming. In theory, this treatment enables the
brain to finish digesting memories of traumas experienced in the past.
It has been shown, however, that these eye movements are not absolutely necessary
for this method to be effective; exposing the patient to sounds alternately in
one ear and then the other, or even having the patient make movements from right
to left, may suffice. If these findings are confirmed, further studies will be
needed to clarify this process, which does seem promising.
* * *
Lastly, in addition to formal therapies, simple behaviours such as exercising
regularly and tending carefully to one’s emotional relationships with friends
and family have long been recognized as powerful natural antidepressants that
can significantly enhance people’s moods.