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Tag: exposure therapy

January 12, 2018

I have a new quote on the bottom of my email, it goes; “We are our own prisoners and consequently, our own liberators.” It’s a quote I came up with and it was inspired by works of Victor Frankl and David Hawkins, but it’s not quite new as I have been using it for at least the past three months to date.

Most of the reasons we have for experiencing fear in our lives, make sense. However, nursing these fears leads to anxiety, and results in you resorting to primal instincts of either being confrontational or avoidant. When this happens, this creates the illusion that external factors prevented you from realizing your goals, or in some cases, creating your goals in the first place. However, the fact is, your goals where not realized because you did nothing.

So regardless of what rules you follow, what beliefs you hold or what you witnessed someone in a similar position to yours, go through, you prevented yourself from thriving. This is good news, because since you have control over the choices you make, you can then go through the challenging process of liberating yourself. Yes, the process is challenging, but you can liberate yourself.

One common reason why you have failed to meet your goals is that you understandably play it safe. Often when people play it safe, they are living dangerously. They could be living a situation that they find convenient and perhaps comfortable, but they are not thriving. When their attention is turned to towards promising situations, they find the investment too costly and risky if they cannot be guaranteed the outcome they desire. So, they remain in their current situation. The problem with this strategy is that things change, and things change because change is a constant.

This means that stagnation is an illusion, because if you are not keeping up with changes then you are regressing. When people play it safe, they don’t develop the necessary skills compatible with changing times and subsequently find themselves out of practice in taking action when it really matters. Further, playing it safe brings you closer to your worst fears, when you are no longer able to maintain your “safe” situation. A good example would be finding yourself phased out of a job. Deep down you knew the job was really a dead end, but you shied away from opportunities to improve your situation due to the amount of sacrifice involved and not being guaranteed an favorable outcome.

The solution lies in knowing this open secret; while there are no guarantees in life, for as long as you are alive and in good health, you will always get your needs met. Things will always work out for you at the bare minimum, because you are simply not going to sit still and allow yourself to wither away. Herein lies your guarantee, aim high enough, and even if you don’t reach your mark, you will land above where you started.

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February 2, 2015

I recently came across a two year article about the popularity of Xanax, and it reminded me of the number of patients I have worked with who had already been taking medication for months and sometimes years, before they decided to try the therapeutic route. I suspect that most people who stick with their medication, even past the point of diminishing returns are unaware about the specifics of how anxiety and panic attacks are typically addressed in therapy.

When treating anxiety, there are three therapeutic models, I use interchangeably , the cognitive behavioral model, the exposure model and the hidden emotion model.

The cognitive behavioral model approaches anxiety from the idea that it is the beliefs and subsequent actions of the person that is making the person anxious. So when the person holds unto beliefs that create anxiety, that person becomes sensitized to situations that can arose anxious thoughts, with the anxious thoughts being a product of what he believes. Take for example, if a person believes that all dogs are dangerous and vicious. This person then becomes aroused by concerns for his safety whenever he finds himself in the presence of a dog, or when he learns that there is a dog close by. Furthermore this person’s anxiety might become even more amplified if he engages in behavior he believes will keep him safe from the dog. So in this situation, we can say that the person’s anxious thoughts are caused by his beliefs about dogs. So in order to help the person get past his fear of dogs, we have to work on helping him adopt a more healthier belief about dogs. In the short term we will get him to practice healthier behaviors to cope with his anxious thoughts about dogs, when he is in the presence of dogs.

The exposure model approaches anxiety from the idea that the anxiety is being caused by the person’s decision to avoid her identified stimuli for the anxiety. An example would be a fear of negotiating one’s way through a crowd of people. So the person’s anxiety would be triggered every time she encounters what she considers a crowd. Using the exposure model, the person would be encouraged to gradually immerse herself into crowed situations, during which she will go through the process becoming desensitized to crowds.

The hidden emotion model approaches anxiety from the idea that anxiety is caused by a fear of confrontation with others. As a result, people who fear confrontation mask their emotions through a facade of being nice. The hidden emotion model posits that through the chronic process of forcing niceness, people sweep their true feelings “under the rug.” Which leads to the repressed feelings being expressed through chronic anxiety and in worse cases, panic attacks. The hidden emotion model addresses anxiety through a process of helping the person become more aware of his feelings, alongside strategies for helping him become more assertive through the practice of assertive building strategies.

In practice what I have learned is that regardless of which model I use to address a client’s needs, it all comes down to identifying maladaptive beliefs the person holds unto and helping the person adopt and practice healthier beliefs. Anxiety is treatable, and in worse cases such as recurring panic attacks, a person can learn to bring the episodes of panic attacks to an end.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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