Anxiety Disorders


Psychotherapy involves talking with a trained mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or counselor, to discover what caused the anxiety disorder and how to deal with its symptoms.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

A type of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is very useful in treating anxiety disorders. The cognitive part helps people change the thinking patterns that support their fears, and the behavioral part helps people change the way they react to anxiety-provoking situations.

For example, people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) who fear dirt and germs are encouraged to get their hands dirty and wait increasing amounts of time before washing them. The therapist helps the person cope with the anxiety that waiting produces. After the exercise has been repeated a number of times, the anxiety may lessen.

CBT can help people with social phobia learn how to overcome the belief that others are always watching and judging them. When people are ready to confront their fears, they are shown how to use exposure techniques to desensitize themselves to situations that trigger their anxieties.

CBT and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

For example, people with social phobia may be encouraged to spend time in feared social situations and to make small social blunders and observe how people respond to them. Since the response is usually far less harsh than the person fears, the anxiety lessens.


People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be helped by recalling their traumatic event in a safe environment, which helps reduce the fear it produces. Cognitive behavioral therapists also teach deep breathing and other types of exercises to relieve anxiety and encourage relaxation.

To learn more about how CBT and other therapies are used to treat PTSD, see Treatment for PTSD (Veterans Administration).

Exposure-Based Behavioral Therapy

Exposure-based behavioral therapy is used to treat specific phobias. The person gradually encounters the object or situation that is feared, perhaps at first only through pictures or tapes, then later face-to-face. Often the therapist will accompany the person to a feared situation to provide support and guidance.