Psychotherapy for Treating Panic Disorder

Patient during psychoanalysis session
BSIP/UIG/Getty Images

Psychological interventions are often used for the treatment of panic disorder. Some common interventions that are thought to be beneficial in reducing ​panic attacks and agoraphobic symptoms include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on the importance of both behavioral and thought processes in understanding and controlling anxiety and panic attacks. The focus of treatment is on inadequate, obstructive, and damaging behaviors and irrational thought processes that contribute to the continuation of symptoms. For example, uncontrolled worrying (thoughts) about what may or may not happen if you have a panic attack may lead to increased symptoms and avoiding certain situations (behavior).

CBT has been scientifically studied for the treatment of panic disorder. Research has suggested that this form of treatment is effective in alleviating many of the symptoms of panic and anxiety. If using CBT techniques, expect to work on changing thoughts and behaviors for quick results in increased ability to control your symptoms. 

Cognitive Behavior Modification

Donald Meichenbaum, PhD, is a psychologist noted for his contributions to cognitive behavioral therapy. He developed cognitive behavior modification, which focuses on identifying dysfunctional self-talk and narratives in order to change unwanted behaviors. Meichenbaum views behaviors as outcomes of our own self-verbalizations.

Panic disorder, agoraphobia, or other anxiety disorders often result in certain thought patterns and behaviors that may hinder recovery. Although this modification to cognitive behavioral therapy doesn't have the database of some of these other approaches to support its efficacy in the specific treatment of panic disorder. If you change your self-talk and narrative, how you react to anxiety-provoking situations will likely change too.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) is a cognitive behavioral technique developed by Albert Ellis, PhD. REBT is known to be effective for the treatment a variety of anxiety disorders. The cognitive and behavioral techniques used in REBT have demonstrated effectiveness in treating panic disorder.

Considered the grandfather of CBT, Ellis developed his technique to teach his patients to detect and dispute “irrational beliefs” or negative thoughts that he believed were causing their psychological problems.

Panic-Focused Psychodynamic Therapy (PFPP)

Panic-focused psychodynamic psychotherapy is a form of treatment for panic disorder based on certain psychoanalytic concepts. In general, these concepts assume that people are shaped by early relationship experiences and that unconscious motives and psychological conflicts are at the core of certain current symptoms and behavior. The unconscious mind, or subconscious, is a hiding place for painful emotions. Defense mechanisms keep these painful emotions hidden, but if these painful emotions can be brought in to the conscious mind, they can be dealt with more adaptively and the symptoms of panic disorder and associated behaviors can be eliminated or reduced.

Group Therapy

According to the American Psychiatric Association, the benefits of group therapy may include:

  1. Decreasing shame and stigma by providing experiences with others who have similar symptoms and difficulties;
  2. Providing opportunities for modeling, inspiration, and reinforcement by other group members; and
  3. Providing a naturally-occurring exposure environment for patients who fear having panic symptoms in social situations.

Couples and Family Therapy

The symptoms of panic disorder can affect relationships among family members or significant others. Family therapy to address the dependency needs of the panic sufferer, support issues, communication, and education may be beneficial as an adjunct treatment. It is not recommended that family therapy be the sole therapeutic intervention for those with panic disorder.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Corey, Gerald. (2012). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy, 9th ed., Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.
  • Kaplan MD, Harold I., and Sadock MD, Benjamin J. (2011). Kaplan and Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry: Behavioral Sciences/Clinical Psychiatry, 11th ed., Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.

By Sheryl Ankrom, MS, LCPC
Sheryl Ankrom is a clinical professional counselor and nationally certified clinical mental health counselor specializing in anxiety disorders.