If you think that you have panic disorder, you should go to your GP first. It is important to get a full medical check up in order to rule out any physical problems prior to going to a psychologist and beginning with CBT. The medical results serve three purposes. At the age of internet where there is unlimited information flow, many people tend to self-diagnose, however, a physician who has the knowledge and experience can carry out tests and decide whether or not the symptoms originate from a yet undiagnosed a medical problem or indeed a psychological problem. Secondly, the main characteristic of your panic disorder is the belief that your physical sensations are physically dangerous. Knowing, for example, that the physician said that the heart is healthy will make it easier to accept and perceive the physical sensations in a more rational way during the therapy. The medical test results become persuasive evidence which enables one to be more willing to open’s one‘s mind to alternative explanations and a more rational formulation of one’s thoughts. Additionally, in order to reduce the irrational anxiety that the physical sensations rise and reducing avoidance, part of the CBT process is going through exposure exercises (Interoceptive exposure) to these internal bodily sensations. A psychologist cannot do these exercises if there are health issues such as heart problems, back/neck problems, balance disorder, blood pressure, epilepsy, pregnancy, problems with the respiratory system etc. Having a clean bill of health prior to therapy can thus help save allot of time and speed up the process.
The main treatments for Panic disorder are pharmacotherapy and CBT. Some people choose or need to combine both. CBT for panic disorder involves thoughts and behavioural change. The goals of the CBT are control and termination of the panic attacks; increase awareness to and the stop of avoidance, safety behaviours and self-focus; reconstruction of irrational thoughts and the reduction of vulnerability to relapse. The elements of CBT are psycho- education, anxiety management( i.e.Relaxation and breathing techniques), cognitive therapy, in vivo and interoceptive exposure. Invivo exposure involved confronting the feared situations. It is usually done by breaking down the confrontation into small manageable steps from the less feared to most feared part and then gradually confronting each step in an hierarchical order. CBT is an successful treatment for Panic disorder because it provides the client with skills and new knowledge which has many future benefits. It is better in preventing relapses in the future ,which for example only medicinal treatment does not do( Brown& Barlow ,1995). According to Furukawa, Watanabe and Churchill(2006), although sometimes CBT and pharmacotherapy demonstrate similar levels of benefits, generally CBT has proven to be superior.
Ham,P., Waters, D.B.,& Oliver, M.N.(2005). Treatment of Panic Disorder. American Family Physician,15,71,4, 733-739.
Furukawa, T.A., Watanabe, N.,& Churchill, R.(2006). Psychotherapy plus antidepressant for panic disorder with or without agoraphobia: systematic review. British Journal of Psychiatry, 188, 305–312.
Brown, T.A.,& Barlow, D.H.(1995). Long-term outcome in cognitive-behavioural treatment of panic disorder: clinical predictors and alternative strategies for assessment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology,63,754–765.