Do you know what it feels like as if you are about to die? Many people who experience panic attacks are the unlucky ones who do. Their scary, overwhelming, and unfortunate sensations can make them feel powerless and lost, like there's nothing they can do. Nothing except avoiding the places, situations, or things that cause panic. But contradictory to their belief, this only leads to more panic and, eventually, panic disorder.
Luckily, therapy is considered an effective way to treat both panic attacks and panic disorder. Many people, however, choose to undergo online counseling, a trending and comfortable way to talk with a therapist. But a natural question arises for many: can online therapy be as good as meeting a therapist in person? Will a therapist help you overcome these frightening sensations without even meeting you? Let's find out by looking closer at what online counseling can offer.
What Will You Get With Online Therapy?
Online therapy is not a new animal species – it's the same therapy, only delivered via video or audio sessions and messaging. Online therapy can sometimes include emails or prerecorded videos. But in this article, we will focus on the first group, as it offers the closest connection with a therapist.
Online therapy for panic attacks is an effective way to treat anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health issues. Does it work for panic attacks? Scientists say yes. One study looked into the effectiveness of an online cognitive behavioral therapy program for panic attacks and found it successfully reduced panic symptoms just like in-person therapy.
Another study focused on people with panic disorder. They analyzed changes in three groups receiving different treatments: the first underwent online therapy, the second attended in-person counseling, and the third received a CBT manual. The result showed that both treatments were more effective than the self-help course.
How Does Online Therapy Work?
There are several psychological approaches to panic attacks and disorders. Panic attacks are easier to treat, as the person hasn't started to cope with them negatively.
In general, CBT helps people change how they perceive harmless situations as frightening. Individuals who have panic attacks are more vulnerable to negative thoughts, fear, and negative self-image, such as feeling ashamed or believing they are worse than others.
At first, a therapist helps the person notice and overcome their negative thoughts. Negative thoughts can be anything a person fears, such as: "I can't have a panic attack in public, I will go insane."
Later on, a therapist will educate about panic attacks and help adopt new habits to cope with anxiety. Reduced anxiety and noticing negative thoughts will help them learn how to stop panic attacks before they worsen. A therapist will also teach what to do during a panic attack.
When a person is ready to try their new skills, a therapist can also offer exposure therapy. This method introduces a person to anxiety-provoking situations step by step, working with the least scary situations at first and continuing with more and more frightening ones.
In general, CBT is considered the most effective treatment for panic attacks. However, a person may not always know what causes a panic attack, experience a short improvement with CBT, or be uncomfortable with the method. Here's when other therapies could be worth a shot.
Panic-focused psychodynamic psychotherapy
Panic-focused psychodynamic psychotherapy, or simply PFPP, is a therapy that delves deeply into the possible causes of panic. This therapy examines a person's past and brings up fears or negative feelings that they may be unaware of.
In the beginning, the therapist takes time to get information about a person's past, the onset of panic attacks, and what might trigger them. Later on, however, they won't be focusing directly on panic attacks. Instead, they will deal with unspoken anger, issues with autonomy, or fears that a person may be harboring. And finally, the therapist will assist the person in dealing with ambiguous or confusing feelings that arise from their realization about suppressed emotions.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR for short, is a type of therapy developed to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Therapists also use this approach for clients with panic disorder, as their symptoms often come from difficult and frightening past experiences.
EMDR requires specialized training in which a therapist asks the client to recall a painful experience and then employs techniques to reduce negative emotions that arise at that time. While this therapeutic technique was originally intended to be used in person, it is also effective online.
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What Are The Benefits of Online Therapy?
It can be tricky to choose between in-person and online therapy. While both are good, each has its own benefits. Online therapy is, in general, a more comfortable option and can sometimes be the only possible help for people struggling with panic disorder or agoraphobia.
Let's look at the benefits.
You can attend therapy from anywhere
There is no need to travel to your therapist. You can talk with them in your home, away from all the triggering and scary things. Receiving therapy from a safe place is critical for people suffering from panic disorder or agoraphobia. Otherwise, they may postpone treatment because it requires them to travel to the therapist's office.
It also becomes handy if you work shifts or need to travel often. Even if you go abroad, you can still connect with your therapist.
The therapist is always there for you
Most therapy services offer daily communication with therapists responding 5–6 days a week. This is very different from in-person therapy, where you will meet once or twice a month. For people struggling with panic attacks, a daily connection is important.
When you use online therapy, you don't have to wait a week or two to tell your counselor about a panic attack. They will always receive timely feedback from you and might help you improve faster. Daily chats with your therapist will provide the support and encouragement you definitely need.
It's less scary for some
Some people may avoid going to a therapist because they are ashamed to talk about their experiences or don't like speaking about these things face-to-face. Online therapy can encourage these people to seek professional help. They don't have to reveal their name to a therapist. They can also choose which communication way is the best for them.
It allows you more freedom
If you don't have time for traditional counseling, online therapy might be a good option for you. It doesn't require any scheduled time or traveling to see your therapist. You can choose how much time you have available, whether it's 3 minutes or 30 minutes. You can also get immediate help rather than waiting until a therapist is ready to accept new clients.
Some websites list therapists in the same state, while others allow you to choose from the entire country. Increased therapists' availability is essential for people who live in rural areas.
Online therapy also simplifies therapists' changing process. People may not be satisfied with the first professional they try, and that's normal. Online therapy sites allow you to change a therapist easily and connect with a new one on the same day. You don't need to inform your therapist that you have decided to try someone else.
When to Consider Medication
While psychotherapy is an effective first-choice treatment for panic disorder, medication can also help. If someone's panic disorder is severe and they do not respond to therapy, medication is a good short-term solution to alleviate symptoms.
There are two types of medication used to treat panic attacks:
- Anti-anxiety drugs
Both types of drugs reduce anxiety and decrease the severity of panic attacks.
However, medication tackles only the problems. This may not be enough for people with panic disorder, as their struggles lie in avoiding the situation that causes panic. As a result, it is best used in conjunction with therapy.
Online Support Options
Support groups can be a great source of self-education and emotional support for those suffering from panic attacks. Joining these groups allows you to share your struggles, connect with others in similar situations, and learn how they cope.
Another support option is hotlines. When you are in the midst of a panic attack and your therapist is unavailable, call or texting hotlines are always available to assist you in getting through the most intense moments.
You Can Overcome It
Panic attacks are intense and overwhelming experiences, but the good thing is that you are not alone. People have crafted many helpful solutions for those suffering. There are many therapists ready to help you both in person and online.