I must have a dozen books or so on the subject of anxiety. All of them tout that panic and anxiety can be cured or treated without drugs and that cognitive behavioral therapy is the gold standard.
Since I’ve become more open about my anxiety, I’ve found out that many people in my life have the same or similar issues – teachers, social workers, lawyers, doctors – people from all walks of life. Many are taking SSRI’s, recommended by their therapists, and feeling like anxiety still takes the better of them more often than not. Many are also seeing therapists who they really like, but aren’t seeing the real, lasting results they want. I can relate. I’ve taken meds before. I’ve been through therapy. And, even though I work really hard at facing my fears and strive for acceptance & surrender, I’m still not where I want to be. Fear still slips in and can throw me for a loop and I can work myself up irrationally in anxious anticipation and end up feeling pretty miserable. Like Jack Nicholson said, in the classic movie, “Is this as good as it gets?”
So, why do so many people struggle with this on again, off again anxiety or constant, underlying anxiety that grips their lives and can’t easily be shaken? The self help books say 'quick & extremely treatable', life experience & observation says 'years in therapy, medication and just getting by'. If it’s really that treatable, what’s going on?
David Burns’ book “When Panic Attacks” is subtitled “The new drug-free anxiety therapy that can change your life.” I’d like a few sessions with him to find out what I’m missing here as a student of anxiety.
Because, I truly believe what the books say -- that even severe anxiety can be effectively treated to the point that, when it rears its ugly head over the years, a person has the skills to handle it – that with acceptance, exposure and a confidence in your skills, feeling anxious becomes no big deal.
Perhaps, we as clients need to be more willing to do the hard, often scary work of facing fears. And, perhaps more therapists need to become experts in anxiety, get out in the field with their clients, and be creative in their approaches, sticking it out until they figure out which treatment mode is working. It's not one size fits all. Most of the people I know who have quit going to therapy weren’t “resistant”, it just wasn’t helping them to feel better.
With some 40 million Americans struggling with anxiety disorders, surely we can work together to do better.