Panic Disorder

Panic Disorder is marked by repeated panic attacks, sometimes called "anxiety attacks."

Panic attacks are sudden bursts of fear or terror that sometimes occur "out of the blue" for no identifiable reason. Often, panic attacks may feel like medical emergencies. In fact, many people with panic disorder go to the emergency room because they think they are having a heart attack.

Symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Racing heart or palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Fear of dying, losing control, or going crazy
  • Chest pain
  • Faintness
  • Dizziness
  • Trembling
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Shortness of breath
  • Choking
  • Nausea
  • Tingling
  • Weakness
  • Feelings of unreality

People with Panic Disorder usually worry that they will have a panic attack in a place where there is no easy escape, such as a shopping mall or a city bus. They might begin to avoid these places, preferring instead to only go to places where escape will be easy. In time, this avoidance can grow and the person is able to go to fewer and fewer places.

This pattern of avoidance is called Agoraphobia. People with Agoraphobia can sometimes become completely housebound because of their fears.

Our outpatient clinic offers weekly Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), mostly in an individual format. However, many clients prefer a more intensive, daily treatment program -Accelerated Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Accelerated CBT 

There are several reasons to consider such an intensive treatment program:

  • Some research suggests that intensive (daily) treatment may be more effective, especially in the earlier stages of treatment.
  • People who have not benefited fully from less intensive interventions may respond well to more intensive, daily treatment.
  • Some clients will find it more convenient to come for treatment for a briefer period of time, rather than stretch out their treatment. This may be especially true for clients who have difficulty adjusting their work schedules, or who come in from out of town.

Our Accelerated Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Program for Panic Disorder is an intensive treatment program that includes a strategy called exposure therapy. Clients work with a therapist individually to develop a step-by-step plan to confront feared situations while refraining from unhelpful responses such as avoidance, compulsive behavior, or rituals that give a false sense of safety. Over time, clients learn that they can handle these situations, and they find that their fear is reduced considerably. There is a wealth of scientific evidence showing that the majority of clients respond very well to this form of therapy. The staff at the Anxiety Disorders Center are expert clinicians and scientists who specialize in the application and study of CBT for anxiety disorders in in adults, children, and adolescents. Our Accelerated Cognitive Behavioral Therapy program for panic disorder (with or without agoraphobia) consists of five daily sessions delivered within a single week. Each session lasts 1.5-2 hours.

After the initial assessment, treatment consists of interoceptive exposure (in which clients gradually face feared physiological sensations that have triggered panic attacks for them in the past) and in-vivo exposure (in which clients gradually face activities that they have avoided due to fears of having a panic attack). They are also encouraged to refrain from their usual "safety signals" that prevent them from learning that they can handle these situations without panicking.

Several research studies indicate that CBT is both effective and well tolerated by clients with panic disorder. CBT is considered a first-line treatment of choice for panic disorder.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is this an inpatient, partial hospital, or residential program?
A: The Accelerated Cognitive Behavioral Therapy program at the Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a specialized intensive therapy program that does not fit into any of these categories. Clients do not stay overnight at The Institute of Living. Each visit lasts from 1.5-2 hours and clients are expected to spend additional time during the day completing homework exercises on their own. Those who live outside the Hartford area may choose to stay in a local hotel (our center can help those from out of town locate an appropriate hotel).

Q: Is this service covered by my insurance plan?
A: Please be advised that most insurance plans do not pay for the Accelerated Cognitive Behavioral Therapy program and our staff members are not contracted with any insurance companies to provide this service. Therefore, the client will be responsible for all costs. We will provide you with an invoice and you are free to seek reimbursement from your insurance company if you wish. Clients who wish to use their insurance plans may receive weekly treatment through our outpatient clinic.

Q: Does “accelerated" or "intensive" cognitive behavioral therapy mean that this treatment is harder than regular treatment?
A: Not necessarily. The words “accelerated" or "intensive" cognitive behavioral therapy mean that treatment is delivered more frequently than the typical weekly schedule. This allows you to receive immediate feedback and support from your therapist about your exposure homework exercises. Therefore, Accelerated Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is more focused and possibly more effective, but is not necessarily more difficult than weekly treatment.

Q: What is the cost?
A: The Accelerated Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Program for Panic Disorder typically runs daily for one week. The typical costs are $2,500 with a licensed psychologist and $1,500 with a postdoctoral fellow*. The cost may be different if your clinician determines that a different schedule of visits is warranted. You will be informed of the structure of the program at the initial evaluation.

* Postdoctoral fellows are clinicians that have their Ph.D., but are not licensed. The postdoctoral fellowship is a 2 year training program in which fellows receive specialized supervised training in Anxiety Disorders and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy prior to taking their licensing examination

Anxiety Disorders Center

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