If you think you may have a heart problem, you would start with a general practitioner to verify any condition. If your doctor detects an anomaly, you would likely be referred to a specialist. You and your family doctor would probably agree with the need for specialized treatment.
Should it be any different when the struggle is an anxiety disorder? It can affect your quality of life just as much as a heart condition. When anxiety begins to get in the way of living a vital and meaningful life, you may consider seeing a mental health specialist that can provide you with the right tools for your particular situation.
If you struggle with anxiety you may not be sure what to look for in treatment and what type of questions to ask when you schedule your first appointment. Here are two lists that can help you make an informed decision.
Questions you can ask before scheduling an appointment:
- When interviewing a potential therapist, you may ask the therapist what percentage of clients he or she treats that involve anxiety disorders. Less than 25% is a potential red flag.
- You can ask for the type of therapy they typically use to treat anxiety disorders. Therapists may use Cognitive Behavior Therapy, ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), and ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention). These are evidenced-based therapeutic practices for anxiety disorders. When clinicians do not mention ERP be cautious, as they may not be the right fit to treat your anxiety.
- Ask them to give you a summary of what a regular session may consist of and an example of techniques they will teach you. An experienced therapist should be able to give you an overall view of what to expect in treatment, and sample skills you will learn during treatment.
- You can also ask them how they feel about the effectiveness of treatment with their clients. How satisfied are the clients with their treatment?
- Beware of clinicians that promise to give you skills to eliminate anxiety from your life. Instead, look for clinicians that will teach you skills so you can learn to see anxiety with a different mindset.
What to expect in treatment:
- Your clinician can help you understand how the mind and the body function together.
- Expect an overall understanding of how feelings, thoughts, sensations and urges are part of the human experience, and why you cannot treat those events as you would external ones.
- Your clinician can plan your treatment according to your life experience, values, and learning style.
- Clinicians that treat anxiety disorder recognize that a 50-minute session once a week is not enough. They will ask you to practice the skills you’ve learned each session throughout the week. Just like learning an instrument or any other skill requires a lot of practice and consistency, learning skills to develop psychological flexibility, and seeing anxiety with a different mindset requires daily practice.
- You will learn skills to help you become disentangled from the thoughts, feelings, sensations and urges related to events that cause anxiety in your life.
- You will learn skills to help you connect with the present moment and anchor yourself as the storms of anxiety go by.
- You will learn to separate yourself from the unhelpful thoughts and recognize that you have a choice regarding how to respond to your thoughts, feelings, and other internal events. You will learn how to effectively respond to them.
- You will be encouraged to reconnect with your values and to what matters most in life –what may have been absent because you have been spending your precious time fighting anxiety.
- You will learn skills to stay on the path you wish to have in life and not the detour where anxiety has taken you.
- Because anxiety leads individuals to avoid some experiences, treatment (ERP) will also include implementing skills to revisit the situations you have been avoiding. For example, if you struggle with social anxiety, you will be encouraged to approach social events and open up to the experience by connecting with the present moment with curiosity and flexibility.
- The goal of treatment is to attain skills to achieve psychological flexibility in times of stress, adversity, and high anxiety.
Besides connecting with you and talking about your life struggles, your clinician will provide skills so you can live with vitality. Treatment for anxiety disorders requires more than talk therapy.
As you embark on the path of change, you will discover that life is still beautiful despite adversity. You will learn to embrace whatever comes because you will have tools not only to meet anxiety when it shows up, but also other unpleasant events that are part of life. You will learn that you no longer need to be a slave to your anxious mind!