How Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Can Help Treat Anxiety Disorders

Maggie Morrow Award Winning Therapist
Author: Maggie Morrow, Award Winning Psychotherapist, Counsellor & Life Coach
Last updated: 15th March 2023

CBT for Anxiety

Anxiety disorders can seriously affect your quality of life. If you worry nonstop, have obsessive thoughts or panic attacks, or suffer from a debilitating phobia, you might be one of the many people who suffer from an anxiety disorder.

Although this diagnosis might sound worrying, it can be helpful to identify the problem so that you can then take the necessary steps to start enjoying your life again.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is highly effective in helping people overcome anxiety disorders.




Learning How To Cope

People who suffer from anxiety disorders often turn to psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be particularly effective for these issues. Medication might alleviate the symptoms temporarily, but CBT can help you understand the cause of the problem and teach you how to control your thoughts and cope with your fears. Therapy can uncover the underlying causes of your worries and then help you see these situations in a new way that does not bring about anxiety.

Some of the disorders that cognitive behavioural therapy can help with include:

  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Generalised anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Phobias


How Many Sessions are Needed?

Therapists will tailor CBT to deal with your individual situation, and the length of treatment will vary depending on the type and severity of your anxiety. If the anxiety is mild to moderate, then many people note significant improvement after eight to twelve sessions. If the anxiety is more severe and accompanied by symptoms of depression and difficult social or family situations, many people may find twelve sessions can provide some improvement but twenty four sessions or more, will enable them to achieve more solid and lasting improvement.


How does CBT work?

As the name implies, CBT uses two main components to bring about a reduction in anxiety levels. The cognitive aspect of cognitive behavioural therapy involves looking at how negative thoughts contribute to your anxiety, whilst the behavioural aspect entails looking at your reactions in such situations. The idea is to change your perception of situations in order to yield more effective behaviours and positive emotions. CBT aims to equip you with actionable solutions to present issues. It does not address issues from your past in any depth so therefore is not the best therapy for working with issues such as trauma or abuse. Other therapies can be more effective in these areas.


What can you expect when you meet your therapist?

During the first session, you and your therapist will likely work together to reach an understanding of what your issues are and why they are problematic. You’ll identify the thoughts, feelings, and attitudes that come up during your daily life. You will then discuss your treatment plan and how long you can expect it to take to make a difference.

Your therapist will help you to identify your unrealistic thought patterns, break them down, and see them in a new, more positive light. This often involves doing homework in between sessions as you go about your life and encounter various situations that trigger your anxiety.

For example, a woman is anxious about going to a party. She identifies her fear that no one will talk to her and she will end up standing around alone looking awkward. CBT can help her challenge these thoughts by asking questions such as:

  • How likely is it that no one will talk to her?
  • Did someone she knows invite her to the party?
  • If no one talks to her, can she initiate a conversation with someone? Perhaps she can plan to compliment the host’s home to start up a conversation.
  • Is it really possible that she will end up standing alone in the middle of the room while everyone points at her and laughs?
  • How often does that actually happen in real life?
  • If she doesn’t enjoy the party, can she just go home early?

There are a lot of ways to challenge your negative thoughts and look at situations in a more realistic light. Some therapists will use workbooks or journals to help you break down these thoughts, and it is often a very enlightening exercise.


In What Other Ways is CBT Helpful?

By undergoing a successful course of CBT for anxiety, you discover it also teaches you coping mechanisms that can be applied to other situations. Perhaps you are seeking treatment for social anxiety, so learning to correct negative thoughts and beliefs in this area becomes a skill that you can use later if you need to deal with a challenging person at work. For example, you’ll know how to assess the likelihood of a difficult person having any negative impact on your life if you stand up for yourself. You will also be able to keep any negative worry afterthoughts to a minimum, when you walk away from the situation, having addressed it, with a self-respecting confident response.

If you are plagued with obsessive thoughts or uncontrollable anxiety, don’t be afraid to seek help. Turning to psychotherapy is not a sign of weakness; it is actually the first step to gaining strength and taking control over your emotions.

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