Two different types of psychotherapy are effective at treating panic disorder, new research finds.
Psychodynamic styles focus more on revealing the unconscious conflicts in the person’s mind that are causing the problems.
In contrast, cognitive-behavioural therapy does not delve into the unconscious, focussing more on conscious thoughts and behaviours.
Panic disorders involve suffering from an extreme feeling of anxiety and fear, sometimes for no apparent reason.
Panic attacks can also be triggered by many things, including irrational fears such as phobias.
During panic attacks people can tremble, become sweaty, feel sick and may experience heart palpitations.
These disorder often begin in adolescence or early adulthood and can leave people isolated.
Mr Thomas Nilsson, study co-author, said:
“Many people adapt to their panic disorder by various restrictions in their daily living.
Treatment is crucial as the disorder often leads to a downward spiral in which the margin for everyday life activities becomes increasingly narrow.”
The study included 221 people with panic disorder who were tracked over 10 years.
The results showed that two years after treatment, 70 percent of patients had improved and 45 percent were in total remission.
The researchers also tested whether people did better if they chose the therapy they preferred rather than being randomly assigned to it.
The results were somewhat confusing, showing that this worked for psychodynamic therapy but not for CBT.
In other words, people did better if they specifically chose psychodynamic therapy but worse if they specifically chose CBT.
Mr Nilsson said:
“Perhaps those who chose psychodynamic therapy had a more accurate perception of what they needed.”
Overall, though, whichever treatment they chose, they improved, said Dr Martin Svensson, the study’s first author:
“The patients felt better in many ways.
For instance depressive symptoms, that often accompany panic disorder, were significantly reduced and quality of life improved.”
Another recent study comparing psychodynamic and cognitive behavioural approaches has found that CBT is the best treatment for panic attacks.
→ Read on: how to deal with panic attacks.
The study was published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics (Svensson et al., 2021).