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Psychological treatment. The type of psychological treatment, which achieves the best results in most anxiety disorder cases, is cognitive‑behavioral therapy (CBT), a treatment that includes the so‑called exposure. The aim of CBT is for the person to learn to face –or ‘expose themselves to’– the situations that scare them or make them anxious, or the things that they have stopped doing, without using avoidance or safety behaviors, in such a way that the person can see that their anxiety decreases, without them escaping from the situation.
The patient and the therapist define a treatment program for facing the feared situations and thus, decrease the patient’s anxiety. This type of psychological treatment requires active involvement by the patient for weeks or months. It is very important for the person who has the disorder to achieve effective changes through their own work because it improves their self‑confidence and allows them to continue facing the situations they fear and to maintain the improvements they have achieved.
Pharmacological treatment. Anxiety disorders are often treated with pharmacological treatments. The most commonly used treatment is a type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which require a few weeks to take effect. Although they are called ‘antidepressants’, the use of these drugs has also been widely studied in the treatment of anxiety disorders. While waiting for the response to the antidepressant treatment, the short‑term use of another family of drugs, benzodiazepines, may also be recommended. When these drugs are prescribed, patients should be informed of their side effects, the length of the treatment, and that their use should be tapered off before stopping their consumption.
Psychological or pharmacological treatment?
Psychological or pharmacological treatment?
The chosen treatment depends on many factors such as the type of anxiety disorder, its severity, the availability of access to professionals trained in psychological treatments, and above all, the decision of the person suffering the disorder.
In most cases of anxiety disorders, it is recommended that the person first receive psychological treatment with CBT. If there is no professional available to offer this treatment, or if the person does not want it, pharmacological treatment will normally be given.
In some cases, both treatments can be combined. Some cases can also start with a pharmacological treatment, with a psychological treatment being initiated later. The healthcare professional will explain all the therapeutic options to the person seeking help.
The role of relatives
There are many factors that influence the origin and evolution of disorders that affect mental health. In this sense, the social environment and, especially, the family of people who have an anxiety disorder are important aspects. When these disorders affect children and adolescents, their family plays an essential and fundamental role in involving these patients in the treatment.
Working with the patient’s family can be useful so that they can learn to identify the symptoms and functioning of the patient’s anxiety. This can also help them to actively collaborate in the treatment and modify the style of their relationship with patients, which would sometimes otherwise cause the continued maintenance of the disorder (through behaviors such as overprotection, participation in security behaviors, excessive criticism, or very high‑expectations, etc.).
The family members, together with the professional and the patient, can collaborate in the tasks the patients must undertake in order to expose themselves to the situations they fear.
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Substantiated information by:
Eduard Forcadell LópezClinical psychologistPsychiatry and Psychology Department
Luisa Lázaro GarcíaPsychiatristChild and Youth Psychiatry and Psychology Head of Department
Miquel Àngel Fullana RivasClinical psychologistPsychiatry and Psychology Department
Sara Lera MiguelClinical psychologistPsychiatry and Psychology Department
Published: 29 January 2019
Updated: 29 January 2019
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