A Guide to Understanding and Working with a Therapist to Reduce Anxiety


Anxiety, often misunderstood as fear without evident threat, serves as a signal, an internal alarm that demands attention. It's a complex phenomenon intertwined with various mental health struggles, manifesting as anticipatory anxiety or as a response to repressed emotions and unresolved conflicts.

At Balance, we recognize that the initial hurdle in addressing anxiety often lies in confronting one's anxiety about being anxious. Through a process of introspection and exploration, we help clients differentiate between adaptive responses to real threats and the automatic activation of the fight-or-flight mechanism in the absence of danger.

Anticipatory anxiety, rooted in uncertain predictions fueled by past experiences, and the somatic and cognitive manifestations of anxiety—such as restlessness, racing thoughts, and physiological discomfort—can be overwhelming. Yet, they offer valuable clues to the deeper, often unconscious, conflicts and emotions driving the anxiety.

Our approach at Balance is to guide clients in uncovering these unconscious patterns, foster self-awareness, and understand the roots of their anxiety. By doing so, we diminish the power of anxiety by addressing its underlying causes rather than merely treating its symptoms. With increased insight and understanding, clients can develop more adaptive coping strategies and experience a reduction in both the intensity of their anxiety and their distress about being anxious.

Understanding Anxiety

Anxiety is more than everyday stress; it involves excessive worry, fear, and a heightened state of arousal. Recognizing the signs of anxiety is the first step towards seeking help.

Seeking Professional Help

Choosing the Right Therapist

  • Selecting a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders is essential. Research their background and approach, and read reviews to ensure a good fit. Professional, Master’s Level Mental Health Therapists specialize in working with emotional disorders, including anxiety, which impact relationships of all kinds (social, occupational, family.) Look for a licensed Master’s level therapist or Associate (e.g. LMFT, AMFT, LCSW, ACSW.)

Initial Assessment

  • The therapist will conduct an initial assessment to understand the individual's specific anxiety symptoms, triggers, and overall mental health.

Establishing Goals and Expectations

Identifying Personal Goals

  • Work with the therapist to identify specific goals for therapy. Whether it's reducing panic attacks, improving daily functioning, or addressing specific triggers, setting clear objectives is crucial.

Understanding the Therapeutic Process

  • Clarify what to expect from therapy. Discuss the therapeutic approach, frequency of sessions, and potential duration. Understanding the process fosters a sense of collaboration.

Therapeutic Approaches for Anxiety

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

  • CBT is a widely used approach for anxiety. It helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns, providing practical tools to manage anxious thoughts.

Exposure Therapy

  • This approach involves gradually exposing individuals to feared situations or thoughts, helping desensitize anxiety triggers over time.

Group Therapy

  • The single most effective therapy for acute anxiety is Exposure Therapy. The group setting allows for safe, gradual exposure to others as well as our own feelings in relation to ourselves and others. By increasing our ability to tolerate others as well as our own feelings, we can address and process conflicts or hidden feelings that fuel and sustain anxiety. Getting a handle on our anxiety is not about eliminating stress but rather effectively regulating our own feelings and reactions, amidst stress.

Building a Therapeutic Relationship

Open Communication

  • Establishing open communication is crucial. Feel free to share concerns, doubts, or questions about the therapeutic process.

Feedback and Adjustments

  • Provide feedback to the therapist about what is working and what isn't. Therapy is a collaborative process, and adjustments can be made to better meet individual needs.

Developing Coping Strategies

Learning Coping Techniques

  • Therapists teach coping techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation. These techniques help manage anxiety symptoms in real-time.

Homework Assignments

  • Therapists may assign homework to practice new skills outside of sessions, reinforcing the integration of coping strategies into daily life.

Identifying and Addressing Triggers

Triggers Assessment

  • Collaborate with the therapist to identify specific triggers that contribute to anxiety. Understanding triggers is essential for developing targeted coping strategies.

Exploring Root Causes

  • In some cases, anxiety may be linked to past experiences. Therapists help explore and process these experiences, contributing to long-term anxiety reduction.

Monitoring Progress

Progress Evaluation

  • Regularly evaluate progress towards established goals. Discuss any challenges or setbacks openly and make necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.

Celebrating Achievements

  • Acknowledge and celebrate small victories. Recognizing progress boosts motivation and reinforces the effectiveness of coping strategies.

Creating a Relapse Prevention Plan

Identifying Warning Signs

  • Work with the therapist to recognize early warning signs of anxiety recurrence. Awareness is crucial for implementing preventive strategies.

Emergency Coping Plan

  • Develop an emergency coping plan for handling acute anxiety episodes. This plan may include specific actions, support networks, and crisis helplines.

Integrating Skills into Daily Life

Application of Coping Strategies & Real-Life Application

  • Practice coping strategies in real-life situations. Discuss challenges and successes with the therapist to refine and adapt these skills in all different contexts.

Mindfulness in Daily Living

  • Incorporate mindfulness techniques into daily routines. Being present in the moment can significantly reduce anxiety by grounding individuals in the current experience.

Building Resilience

Resilience-Building Exercises

  • Collaborate with the therapist on exercises designed to build emotional resilience. These may include reframing negative thoughts, fostering self-compassion, and cultivating a positive mindset.

Learning from Setbacks

  • View setbacks as opportunities for learning and growth. Discussing setbacks with a therapist helps identify triggers and refine coping strategies.

Involving Support Networks

Educating Support Systems

  • Involve family and friends in the therapeutic process by educating them about anxiety and its management. Their understanding and support can significantly contribute to the overall effectiveness of treatment.

Incorporating Loved Ones in Sessions

  • Some therapists may offer sessions that involve family members to address relational dynamics and enhance the supportive network.

Gradual Exposure to Triggers

Gradual Exposure Plan

  • Work with the therapist to develop a gradual exposure plan for confronting anxiety triggers. This structured approach helps individuals face fears in a controlled manner, reducing overall anxiety levels.

Monitoring Progress

  • Regularly assess progress in exposure exercises. Adjust the pace based on individual comfort levels, ensuring a gradual but steady approach.

Celebrating Progress

Reflection on Achievements

  • Take time to reflect on the progress made during the therapeutic journey. Celebrate milestones, whether they are big or small, as they signify steps toward anxiety reduction.

Therapist Recognition

  • Express gratitude to the therapist for their guidance and support. A positive therapeutic relationship is a collaborative effort, and acknowledging the therapist's role fosters a sense of partnership.

Transitioning Towards Independence

Transitioning from Therapy

  • Discuss the possibility of transitioning towards more independent self-management. This phase involves applying learned skills autonomously while maintaining periodic check-ins with the therapist.

Creating a Self-Care Plan

  • Collaborate on a personalized self-care plan that includes ongoing practices to support mental health beyond the formal therapy sessions.

The Continuation of the Journey

Lifelong Strategies

  • Embrace therapy as a lifelong tool for learning and growth. Continue to explore strategies for maintaining mental health and building resilience in the face of life's challenges.

Reflecting on Personal Growth

  • Periodically reflect on personal growth and changes in anxiety levels. This self-awareness contributes to ongoing mental well-being.

In Conclusion

Therapy is a dynamic process, and individuals are encouraged to actively engage in their journey towards anxiety reduction. By collaborating with a therapist, integrating coping strategies into daily life, involving support networks, and embracing the journey, individuals can build resilience and find lasting relief from anxiety.

Remember, the path to wellness is unique for each person, and the therapist is there to provide guidance and support throughout the evolving process.