- Do you frequently worry or feel afraid about life in general or even something specific?
- Do you experience anxiety or panic attacks?
- Are you having difficulty in areas of your life that are important to you and wish that you could have better control of your anxiety?
- Do you wonder why God is so distant?
It is very common to feel afraid or anxious at certain times in our lives. However, the state of “being afraid” is essentially what amounts to an anxiety disorder as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Jesus told us, “Do not be afraid.” He didn’t say this to say that those who experience anxiety disorders are somehow sinful. No, He said it to point out the fact that we are afraid and that it is possible to overcome it learning to trust in God’s Providence and Justice. He didn’t say that we would never feel afraid, but He told us not to be afraid. In other words, fear does not have to control you or me or anyone else.
Anxiety disorders can be very scary and debilitating when you don’t know where to turn or who to talk to about the fear that you are experiencing and how it all started. Many in the medical and mental health professions believe that medication is the only answer or that if therapy is involved, it should be chosen from a few select choices based upon the specific diagnosis, which is why people who experience anxiety disorders feel so misunderstood. After all, the fear or anxiety must be “disproportionate to the situation or age inappropriate and hinder the person’s ability to function normally” in order to “qualify” as a disorder. The definition already suggests that many in the helping professions perceive that there is something “wrong” with the person who is seeking help, rather than seeing them as a person who is suffering and in need of compassionate care and understanding.
ANXIETY DISORDERS ARE THE MOST COMMON MENTAL ILLNESS IN THE UNITED STATES
If you have struggled with an anxiety disorder, you are not alone. Fear can take on many forms and your personal situation and needs are unique and specific, so while there are diagnoses that you may have been assigned, your experience is different even if there is something that you share with others. The most important thing to remember is that the good news is that there is hope and help is available. I have experience working with all types of fear and anxiety, including those that are not specifically mentioned in the DSM-5.
The main categories of anxiety disorders that are specifically mentioned in the DSM-5 (excluding substance/medication-induced) include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder– General excessive fear and worry about a number of life events or activities (such as work or school performance) lasting at least 6 months.
- Panic Disorder– Recurrent unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack is an abrupt surge of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes and includes specific symptoms that may also include culturally specific symptoms, which do not count towards the minimum four symptoms required. At least one panic attack has been followed by 1 month (or more) of one or both: persistent concern or worry about additional panic attacks or their consequences or a significant maladaptive change in behavior related to the attacks. Note: A Panic Attack Specifier can be added to other mental disorders if it does not meet the full diagnostic criteria.
- Phobias, Specific Phobia – Specific fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation and typically lasts 6 months or longer. Fear or anxiety is often expressed differently in children.
- Agoraphobia – Fear of two (or more) of specific situations that require the person to be in open or enclosed spaces outside of his or her home alone, with the fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting at least 6 months.
- Social Anxiety Disorder (previously called social phobia) – Marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others, typically lasts 6 months or longer.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder – Developmentally inappropriate and excessive fear or anxiety concerning separation from those whom the individual is attached, lasting at least 4 weeks in children and adolescents and typically 6 months or more in adults.
Note: The American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the DSM-5 states that related conditions include: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Adjustment Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Acute Stress Disorder, and Selective Mutism.
CATHOLIC PSYCHOTHERAPY AND SPIRITUAL COUNSELING FOR ANXIETY DISORDERS
If you are committed to the therapeutic process and willing to acknowledge how anxiety is having an effect on your ability to function to your full capacity in areas of your life that are important to you, including your spiritual life, psychotherapy or spiritual counseling from a Catholic therapist with my background and training can be very effective. While some people who experience anxiety disorders have a general idea about when they started to feel anxious or afraid, many people do not understand the complex unconscious psychological conflicts that started this general fear and even why they may cling to it. Psychotherapy techniques can help you to understand this and put new language and meaning to things that you were not able to do on your own, so that you can find begin to believe that you do not have to continue to be afraid. You can learn how to have command authority over your body and make choices about what to do in any given moment, so that when you feel afraid, fear no longer has control over you.
My approach as a Catholic therapist, for clients who are seeking God’s help in their lives or who wish to include Catholic doctrine and even spiritual counsels, is to help you understand the relationship between fear and trust in God and how you can overcome that by doing the psychological work and following the spiritual counsels that I offer. You can learn to trust in God’s Providence and Justice, no matter what happens to you, which will help you to learn how to respond to situations in life so that you no longer have to be afraid. There’s a psychological and a spiritual aspect that I have found to be highly beneficial to helping clients heal from anxiety disorders. My approach to treatment is unique and specific based on your individualized needs and I understand that some of my clients would prefer to keep their relationship with God separate from their psychological treatment. I have traditional psychotherapy methods for treating anxiety disorders as well, even for non-believers.
ALTHOUGH YOU MAY SEE THE BENEFITS OF PSYCHOTHERAPY AND SPIRITUAL COUNSELING FOR ANXIETY DISORDERS, YOU MAY STILL HAVE SOME QUESTIONS OR CONCERNS ABOUT THE PROCESS…
I have had anxiety most of my life. I have tried counseling before. I doubt that anything can help me.
This is a valid concern. Many people who experience anxiety disorders do so for long periods of time and often find it hard to feel hope that ANYTHING will work for them. While I can make no guarantees, research shows that the motivation and aptitude of the client who is being treated are the most important factors for client success.
Most “counseling” or even “psychotherapy” models that are offered today are designed to be quick-fix techniques that are have been heavily marketed as being “highly-effective” in reducing symptoms, so when a client doesn’t experience healing and still has symptoms that are debilitating, they feel even less hope that anything can help them. Many of these models do not work with the unconscious to get to the core of what is causing the symptoms in the first place by only working with how to cope with the symptoms on a conscious level and completely disregard a person’s relationship with God.
My experience working with clients who experience anxiety disorders is that while they may never stop feeling afraid because fear is a normal human emotion, many can and do stop feeling controlled by the debilitating anxiety disorder that results in sufficient suffering to motivate them to start treatment and persevere in treatment. Your chances of success in psychotherapy and spiritual counseling increase, if you believe that the techniques will work.
I have had anxiety attacks and panic attacks before. I think there’s a difference.
Although, the DSM-5 has a Panic Attack Specifier that can be attached to other mental health disorders, the language about a panic attack being “abrupt”, but also the notation that it can occur in a calm or anxious state is a source of confusion, particularly for people who have never experienced an “anxiety attack” or “panic attack” and don’t even take the time to ask questions when a client says, “I have panic attacks”. There is a very clear difference between these two types of attacks and an anxiety attack doesn’t fit the criteria for a panic attack, nor is it even defined in the DSM-5. In some cases, a person, who has an anxiety disorder other than panic disorder or some other disorder with panic attacks, may have both anxiety attacks and panic attacks. It’s been my experience that panic attacks typically have no known trigger, which is why they are defined as abrupt. A person can be simply sitting in their living room, watching television, even relaxing with their family or traveling to a routine appointment that has never been a problem before and then all of the sudden, their heart starts to race, they have palpitations, trouble breathing, they may even begin to sweat, and they feel very afraid, but they don’t know why. In contrast, a person who has an anxiety attack typically knows why they are feeling more anxious with or without warning or can identify it upon thinking about it because of stress that has been building up. Often, it is only through learning to work with your unconscious and scrutinizing yourself psychologically or through the removal of the unknown stimuli that the panic attacks will cease. Sometimes, as painful as the panic attacks are, they are eventually seen as a gift from the person’s unconscious because they help the person discover the truth about something that they couldn’t put into words before because of a traumatic situation.
As the saying goes when it comes to exercise: no pain, no gain, right? Psychotherapy and spiritual counseling can feel a bit like that sometimes, but it’s worth it when you discover healing and no longer let fear control you.
I’m a devout Catholic (Christian). I don’t lack faith or trust in God.
I am a convert to the Catholic faith and it was hard for me to admit that I was afraid too. Learning to understand what it means to trust completely in Divine Providence and Perfect Justice can be hard and putting it into practice can be even more difficult if you don’t have someone to help guide you. The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. Working through your unconscious conflicts and following spiritual counsels such as prayer, fasting and a sincere study of the faith can help you to make a trustful surrender to God so that no matter what happens to you, fear no longer has the power to control you. You can continue to be controlled by your anxiety or learn the difference between feeling afraid and being afraid. You don’t have to be afraid.