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Agoraphobia is the fear of being in a place where you have no way of getting out or seeking help. Symptoms frequently include panic attacks, so people with agoraphobia learn to avoid the places where they experienced panic episodes in the past. Extreme cases lead the sufferer to be trapped at home, afraid to walk out the front door. The panic attacks mean that overcoming agoraphobia often involves seeking treatment for a panic disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy and certain medications are some of the best methods a person can use for overcoming agoraphobia.
Cognitive behavioral therapy may be the best treatment for agoraphobia. When a person undergoes cognitive behavioral therapy as a way of overcoming agoraphobia, he or she first talks with a counselor to understand the cause of the fear. During the therapy, the patient will learn what instances usually result in a panic attack and ways to control or cope with those instances. The purpose of the therapy is to lessen the fear and, thus, the panic.
Part of using cognitive behavioral therapy for overcoming agoraphobia involves learning certain techniques to help someone work through an attack. The therapist usually teaches the patient breathing methods or other ways to relax to get through an attack. Another part of therapy for overcoming agoraphobia is often called exposure therapy.
During exposure therapy, the patient participates in those circumstances that usually cause the attacks, but in a safe manner. For instance, if a patient avoids shopping areas because of his or her agoraphobia, he or she may visit a mall accompanied by a therapist. Repeatedly visiting the places the patient associates with panic attacks helps to reduce the panic associated with those areas. Exposure also helps a patient learn to deal with strong emotions felt in certain situations.
Anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications are other treatment methods used to help people overcome agoraphobia. People will often take medications while undergoing therapy as a way to make the therapy more effective. While medicines can help a person cope with agoraphobia, they alone will not cure it.
Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common type of anti-depressant used to help people with agoraphobia. Some patients do not respond to SSRIs, and so may try a stronger anti-depressant, such as a tricyclic antidepressant. An unfortunate side effect of both types of anti-depressants is that they may initially trigger panic-like symptoms in a patient. To prevent such a side effect, a doctor may gradually increase the dose prescribed to the patient and then gradually wean him or her off the medication at the end of treatment. A person also can try anti-anxiety medicine if anti-depressants are ineffective, but those medicines can be addictive if taken for too long or at too high a dose.
CBT, SSRIs, tranquilizers are part of a long list of wonder drugs and wonder therapies which entirely miss the point.
If you have severe anxiety (as I have, for over forty years) drugs of any sort will make it worse, and CBT is like flinging a cup of water on a house fire. Going to places with a therapist leaves you panicking once you have to go there alone. Overcoming anxiety is slow and difficult. There are no shortcuts.
People need the right support, not fashionable cures and addictive drugs. It's about (a) finding out why you're scared and (b) teaching yourself that fear will not kill you, will subside in the end, and can be faced. It's a long hard road. Don't take any drugs with you.
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