What is Panic Disorder?
Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by panic attacks, which are sudden periods of intense fear or discomfort. Panic attacks are accompanied by a combination of physical symptoms (e.g., rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pain, and dizziness) and psychological symptoms (e.g., fear of losing control, fear of dying, and a sense of impending doom). Panic disorder can significantly interfere with an individual's daily life, causing them to avoid certain situations or activities for fear of experiencing a panic attack.
What causes Panic Attacks?
I have found that these attacks can be triggered by a variety of factors, including stress, environmental triggers, past trauma and strained relations with one’s early caregivers. From over twenty years treating individuals who experience panic attacks, I have found that past trauma and strained relationships play significant roles in the development of panic attacks. Often, these individuals have intense feelings of loss; separation and independence are common areas of conflict for those suffering from panic attacks. Close exploration of these feelings reveals that such individuals find being left alone to be painfully difficult. Many individuals are not aware of the role of this loss in their life because anxiety and panic override these emotions. Individuals who suffer from panic attacks tend to minimize these feelings during the initial evaluation and early phase of the treatment process.
How does Past Trauma contribute to Panic Disorder?
From early life, individuals prone to panic attacks struggle with feelings of inadequacy and depend on caretakers for all their needs. The dependency itself can develop from traumatic experiences, such as threatened or actual abandonment by important caregivers. This instills the sense of loss described in the previous section. The experience of loss, both subtle and overt, causes the child to feel inadequate protection from their caregiver. Triggers of this feeling of loss can occur throughout life, manifesting as panic attacks when one experiences separation, loneliness, or disrupted attachments.
How are Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder generally treated?
Panic disorder is generally treated with a combination of therapy and medication. Antidepressant medications––particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)––are often used to help reduce the frequency and intensity of panic attacks. Psychodynamic therapy is helpful in teaching individuals coping skills and strategies to manage their panic attacks and reduce overall anxiety. Other forms of treatment include exposure therapy and relaxation techniques.
A thorough consultation with an experienced mental health professional is critical in order to determine the most appropriate treatment for your specific needs and circumstances.
How is Panic Disorder treated in my practice?
In my practice, I have successfully treated individuals with panic disorder using psychodynamic psychotherapy.
Why is Psychodynamic Psychotherapy appropriate for Panic Disorder?
As a therapist, I believe that psychodynamic psychotherapy can be a great option for those dealing with panic disorder. One of the benefits of this approach is that it helps to create a safe and trusting relationship between you and me, your therapist. This can be really helpful when it comes to learning new coping skills and strategies to manage panic attacks. Plus, by exploring your thoughts and feelings, you'll gain a deeper understanding of what might be causing your panic attacks. As you work through these emotions with my support, you'll feel more able to tackle them on your own. Overall, psychodynamic psychotherapy can provide significant relief from panic disorder by helping you gain insight and work through difficult emotions in a supportive environment.
For a more comprehensive understanding of how I think about and use psychodynamic treatment techniques to better understand emotional responses, please click here.
Will Psychodynamic Psychotherapy work for Me?
The most effective treatment for panic disorder likely varies from person to person. It is therefore important to work with a mental health professional to determine the best treatment approach for your specific needs and circumstances. While it may not be a one-size-fits-all solution, I have found that psychodynamic psychotherapy can be an effective treatment for panic disorder. Some individuals want a more comprehensive treatment approach, in which case I may recommend psychoanalysis (click here to read more about the difference between psychodynamic and psychoanalytic therapy). Regardless of the approach, the best step toward overcoming panic disorder is finding and working with a qualified and experienced mental health professional.