Treating Panic Disorder (Panic Attack) with Therapy

If you have frequent panic attacks, you don’t have to suffer anymore. Treatment is available. Therapy (also called counseling) is often a helpful treatment for panic disorder. With therapy, a specially trained professional (therapist) helps you face and learn to manage your anxiety. Therapy can be short-term or long-term depending on your needs. In some cases, medicine may also be prescribed along with therapy. It may take time before you notice how much therapy is helping, but stick with it. With therapy, you can feel better.

Man talking to health care provider.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches you to manage anxiety that can lead to panic attacks. It does this by helping you understand how you think and act when you’re anxious. Research has shown CBT to be a very effective treatment for panic disorder. How CBT is run is almost like a class. It involves homework and activities to build skills that teach you to cope with anxiety step by step. It can be done in a group or one-on-one, and often takes place for a set number of sessions. CBT has two main parts:

  • Cognitive therapy helps you identify the negative, irrational thoughts that occur with your anxiety. You’ll learn to replace these with more positive, realistic thoughts.

  • Behavioral therapy helps you change how you react to anxiety. You’ll learn coping skills and methods for relaxing to help you better deal with anxiety.

Other forms of therapy

Other therapy methods may work better for you than CBT. Or, you may move from CBT to another form of therapy as your treatment needs change. This may mean meeting with a therapist by yourself or in a group. Therapy can also help you work through problems in your life, such as drug or alcohol dependence, that may be making your anxiety worse.

Warning signs for suicide

Panic disorders can be a discouraging, frightening condition that can lead some people to consider self-harm or suicide. It is very important to work with a trusted therapist, take any medicines as prescribed, and seek help if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Thinking often about taking your life

  • Planning how you may attempt it.

  • Talking or writing about committing suicide

  • Feeling that death is the only solution to your problems

  • Feeling a pressing need to make out your will or arrange your funeral

  • Giving away things you own

  • Participating in risky behaviors, such as sex with someone you don't know or drinking and driving

If you notice any of these warning signs, get help right away. You can call a mental health clinic, a 24-hour suicide crisis hotline, or go to a hospital emergency room.

Other resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
800-273-8255 (800-273-TALK)
National Suicide Hotline
800-784-2433 (800-SUICIDE)
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Mental Health America

Getting better takes time

Therapy will help you feel better and teach you skills to help manage your panic disorder long term. But change doesn’t happen right away. It takes a commitment from you. And treatment only works if you learn to face the causes of your anxiety. So, you might feel worse before you feel better. This can sometimes make it hard to stick with it. But remember: Therapy is a very effective treatment. The results will be well worth it.