Experts from the American Psychiatric Association are now in the process of revising its guidelines to accommodate recent findings about the significant effect of talk therapy for managing the usually crippling symptoms of panic disorder.

Barbara Milrod, an associate attending physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital – Weill Cornell Medical Center and an associate professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, presented the successful 12-week course study which was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Using the psychodynamic psychotherapy regimen, the twice-weekly sessions are focused on the symptoms of panic disorder which include intense fear, chest pain, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath. The talk therapy also garners insight on the various unconscious factors that may be the reason why the condition developed in the first place. Focusing on these unconscious factors is the basic foundation of psychoanalysis.

Panic disorder is a serious condition that usually appears during early adulthood with no clear causes. It is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear with physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal stress. The condition is usually linked to major events in life that are potentially stressful such as a college graduation, wedding, pregnancy, childbirth, reunions, even holidays. There is also some evidence of genetic predisposition, which means that if someone in your family has suffered panic disorder, it is more likely that you will go through the same experience under stressful circumstances.

The new study involved 49 people with panic disorder. Using a standard scale to measure and assess panic symptoms, about 70% showed significantly less anxiety and other panic symptoms while only 39% of those who are involved exhibited an increase in their symptoms.

The successful study is paving the way for a much larger scale experiment to compare the effects of psychodynamic psychotherapy to cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) in people with panic disorder.

While psychodynamic psychotherapy aims to help people understand the underlying emotional meaning of their panic as it minimizes the symptoms, CBT is a time-limited approach that aims to change negative thought processes and behaviors.

According to Chicago-based psychoanalyst Dr. Mark Smaller, who is also the director of the Neuro-Psychoanalysis Foundation, psychodynamic psychotherapy is a step to diffuse the really intense and debilitating symptoms of panic disorder. “You need that (psychodynamic psychotherapy) in order for someone to do more in-depth work or work on issues that contributed to the symptoms in the first place,” adds Smaller.

Panic disorder can be treated. When one treatment doesn’t work, there are other effective options available. Research is yielding new and improved therapies that can help most people with the condition to lead productive and fulfilling lives. Aside from therapy, medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can also be prescribed and used as a therapeutic supplement.

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