Psychotherapy is a general term used to describe a therapeutic interaction between a trained professional, such as a psychologist or counselor, and a patient. There are many different options for treatment and rehabilitation from anxiety, and psychotherapy has been considered to be one of the most popular and efficient methods since the early 20th century.

If you are one of the 40 million adults suffering from anxiety and you are considering psychotherapy as a solution, it is important to understand what the different types of psychotherapy have to offer and which one might fit your needs.

For anxiety, the four most popular psychotherapeutic methods are:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

  • What It Is: CBT is a form of psychotherapeutic treatment that focuses on exploring the patterns of thinking that lead to inappropriate responses in an individual. It assumes that anxiety is a result of a maladaptive response to inaccurate or negative thinking that causes dysfunctional behavior.
  • How It Addresses Anxiety: CBT addresses the emotions and thoughts that cause counterproductive reactions and examines the relationship between those thoughts and behaviors. CBT is a problem-focused method that replaces maladaptive responses with successful coping strategies by encouraging goal-directed behavior.
  • Results: The purpose of CBT is to achieve awareness of inaccuracies in thought by exploring painful emotions, thoughts, and reactions. Once the pattern has been identified, the patient is trained to develop new techniques for coping with negative feelings.
  • Additional Info: offers a free online application based on CBT, ABCtracker™.

Exposure Therapy

  • What It Is: Exposure therapy treats anxiety disorders by exposing patients to their fears in a systematic and secure way.
  • How It Addresses Anxiety: During times of anxiety, the brain relays inappropriate information of danger that is not really there. Exposure therapy attempts to counter these maladaptive signals by confronting the fear.
  • Results: The purpose of this therapy is to decrease or eliminate a person's fearful reaction by gradually subjecting them to it in a way that is not dangerous. Once the fear has been eliminated, the person would, ideally, be able to repeatedly face the object or situation without fear or avoidance. Elimination of a fear response is called extinction.

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

  • What It Is: Anxiety may also be a product of maladaptive, automatic cognitive processes that instigate inappropriate reactions. Mindfulness teaches people to be aware of their thoughts, feelings, and sensations from moment to moment without judgment or blame. A mindfulness practice aims to achieve a higher state of awareness for the present moment.
  • How It Addresses Anxiety: Pulling attention away from the past or future and focusing it on the present can aid in achieving a higher state of mind. A simple way to practice mindfulness is to focus attention on the body from one end (i.e. the feet,) and notice the sensations as the attention is focused across the rest of the body to the other end (i.e. the head).
  • Results: In the long run, self-awareness teaches people to manage and modify their thought processes in a healthy way.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

  • What It Is: ACT is a type of mindfulness psychotherapy that helps guide people into accepting negative experiences and challenges. The theory behind this method is that a better sense of well-being can be achieved though learning to cope with negative emotions and situations.
  • How It Addresses Anxiety: ACT also involves making a commitment to change. The commitment aspect of ACT is similar to other behavioral approaches than it is to mindfulness approaches. The first step towards commitment is identifying personal values and setting goals to achieve them.
  • Results: Acceptance teaches patients to let feelings and thoughts happen without acting on them and to acknowledge difficulties in life without avoiding them. This method also encourages people to set personal goals, and also helps guide patients if they have trouble sticking to these goals.

While this is an overview created to help you understand four of the most popular types of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety, work with a trained medical professional to find a treatment that is best suited to your specific needs.

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