Anxiety disorders can seriously affect the quality of your life. Having obsessive thoughts or panic attacks, or suffering from a phobia, can be extremely frightening and debilitating. Using CBT therapy for anxiety is a highly effective method helping people with anxiety disorders learn how to feel more at ease and in control, in their lives.
Getting a diagnosis of anxiety can be extremely worrying. Identifying the problem is the first step in controlling anxiety, stopping worrisome thoughts and starting to enjoy life again. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a structured, interactive talking therapy.
A trained CBT therapist will help you to understand how your thought patterns and behaviour influence your situation. They will also help you to find new ways of thinking and strategies to develop new, more positive behaviour patterns.
For those with anxiety disorders, psychotherapy is often the most effective treatment option. CBT is a form of psychotherapy and unlike anxiety medication it treats more than just the symptoms. While medication might alleviate symptoms temporarily it doesn’t get to the root cause of anxiety.
CBT can help you understand the cause of the problem and bring greater awareness to your thoughts. The CBT process is designed specifically to teach you how to cope with your fears by uncovering the underlying cause of your worries. It also helps you identify and implement behaviours and thinking which alleviate anxiety. It enables you to see worrying situations in a new way and develop tools for dealing with them more effectively.
Some of the anxiety issues that cognitive behavioural therapy can help includes:
Therapists will tailor CBT to deal with your individual situation. The length of treatment will vary depending on the type and severity of your anxiety, but can be anything from 8 to 24 sessions or more. The number of sessions you need will depend on factors such as:
If the anxiety is mild to moderate, then many people note significant improvement after 8 to 12 sessions. If the anxiety is more severe and accompanied by symptoms of depression and difficult social or family situations, many people may find up to 24 or more sessions are needed to enable them to achieve more solid and lasting improvement. However, it varies in individual cases and some people with severe anxiety may find they need fewer sessions, whilst certain individuals with mild anxiety may find more sessions helpful.
CBT uses two main therapeutic components to bring about a reduction in anxiety levels. The cognitive aspect of cognitive behavioural therapy will examine negative thoughts that contribute to feeding your anxiety, whilst the behavioural aspect enables you to look at how you react in situations that trigger anxiety and explore alternative behaviours you can engage in to reduce anxious symptoms.
The idea is to increase awareness and change your perception of situations in order to reshape thinking and yield more effective behaviours and positive emotions. CBT is generally a short-term therapy, which aims to equip you with actionable solutions to present issues. It does not address issues from your past in great depth so it’s not the best therapy for working with issues such as trauma or abuse. Other therapies can be more effective in these areas.
During the first session, you and your therapist will 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 negative thought patterns, break them down, and see them in a new, more positive light. This often involves doing homework 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:
Is it likely that no one will talk to her?
Did someone she know 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.
How realistic is it 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 negative thoughts and look at situations in a more realistic light. Some therapists will use workbooks or journals to help you break down thoughts, which can be a very enlightening exercise.
Paul Glynn holds over 30 years experience as a therapist and is KlearMinds Clinical Director. Paul offers a warm, pragmatic and interactive approach to help you understand and go beyond the difficulties you are facing. He is passionate about empowering clients to develop the tools that can help them to resolve stuckness and positively change repetitive, problematic behaviours.
Judy is a highly experienced psychotherapist. She utilizes a wide range of therapies, including CBT and psychoeducation to help her clients. She also holds considerable experience providing Career Coaching, Mindfulness Meditation and Mediation. Judy draws on a wealth of experiencing and works proactively with clients to help them understand and positively change patterns of thinking and behaviour which hold them back in life.
Mita is a highly experienced psychotherapist and counsellor with over 20 years of clinical experience. She is passionate about helping clients overcome issues they have been struggling with for months and sometimes years. Mita draws upon a range of therapies including, CBT, Mindfulness and EMDR, which she tailors to best suit each client she works with.
Kate is a highly skilled therapist. She has worked successfully in a variety of settings, including media, TV, journalism, law and higher education. She draws upon a broad range of therapeutic skills including existential, CBT, mindfulness and psychoeducation to enable clients to achieve the outcomes they want, in terms of professional and personal satisfaction and wellbeing.
Amanda is a highly experienced Advanced CBT and Integrative therapist with more than 8 years experience. She draws upon a wide range of therapies and works proactively to help clients understand, process and resolve their concerns and conflicts. Amanda can assist you to quickly identify problematic thoughts and behaviours which negatively impact your personal and professional well-being.
Jodie is a psychotherapist with several years experience helping individuals address a wide range of concerns. She works collaboratively using a variety of therapies, including CBT psychoeducation and coaching skills to empower clients to make positive changes. Jodie draws upon a range of theories and techniques best suited to the needs of each client, helping them to understand and change patterns of unhelpful behaviour, which can hold them back.
Maggie is an award winning psychotherapist, an accomplished life coach and counsellor, and Director of KlearMinds. In 2007 she was awarded the BACP National Award for advancing the quality of therapy service provision to the highest standards in the UK. Maggie’s experience spans over 20 years helping people overcome problems so they can enjoy more fulfilling and satisfying lives.
By undergoing a successful course of CBT for anxiety you will discover it also teaches you coping mechanisms that can be applied to other situations. CBT teaches you to challenge negative thought patterns and will enable you to change your behaviour. It’s a skill you can use if you come up against a challenging person or situation in the future. You will find it easier to respond with confidence when you are fully aware of how to interpret a situation more positively. Using CBT can help you develop the skills to keep any negative afterthoughts to a minimum, and feel confident you have dealt with a difficult situation with integrity.
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 of your emotions. Seeking CBT for anxiety is a positive and empowering move.
This page was written by Maggie Morrow (MSc, BSc, Adv Dip, UKCP) and medically reviewed in May 2022.