Treating Teen Panic Disorder In A New Way

Treating Teen Panic Disorder In A New Way

Back in the days of Sigmund Freud, around the early 1900’s, anxiety was seen as a reflection of repressed conflicts or hidden, unexpressed desires. In order to treat the anxiety, psychoanalytic therapy was necessary to gain insight into the inner conflict. However, today, anxiety is seen as a set of behavioral and physical symptoms stemming from a set of irrational beliefs. To treat the teen anxiety means to search for and expose any irrational beliefs that are the root cause of the fear, panic, or anxiety.

Yet, more specifically, psychotherapists Laurel Hulley and Bruce Ecker, have found that the most effective treatment for anxiety is finding the purpose that it has in the unique emotional and psychological landscapes of their clients. According to Hulley and Ecker, once their client directly experiences and accepts this previously unrecognized purpose; there is an opening in which insight can be experienced, often eliminating symptoms of panic.

For instance, in an imaginative game of “what if”, one client recognized that her panic attacks were the result of believing that if she didn’t have the intense anxiety then another bad thing would happen. Having the panic attacks were a way for her to experience something “bad”, without them, another bad thing would happen that would not be under her control.

Although Hulley and Ecker’s work is done primarily with adults, this therapeutic treatment method can be used with teens as well. The consistent experience of panic attacks is a qualifying criterion for teen Panic Disorder. An adolescent who experiences panic attacks repeatedly and who has a persistent concern about having additional attacks can likely be diagnosed with Panic Disorder. Typically, those with this disorder are extremely anxious and fearful, primarily because of the inability to predict when the next attack will occur. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 2.3% of 13 to 18 year olds have been diagnosed with Panic Disorder. Adolescents who suffer from this disorder are more likely to also suffer from depression, suicidal thoughts, and addiction.

Panic Disorder is a mental health condition in which an individual experiences sudden and repeated attacks of fear, which are often accompanied by a feeling of being out of control. Uncomfortable physical sensations, such as a pounding heart, sweating, weakness, dizziness, and numbness makes up the experience a panic attack. An intense worry about the next attack is a common symptom.

Fortunately, teens that suffer from Panic Disorder can be treated. Both medication and psychotherapy, or a combination of the two, have been used successfully to reduce the intensity of anxiety as well as the frequency of panic attacks. Medication for treating anxiety disorders often includes anti-anxiety medication and even anti-depressants. Although antidepressants are incredibly effective, they do come with risks. For teens in particular, it is essential to know that anti-depressants can cause suicidal thoughts and even attempts at suicide. Of course, anyone taking psychotropic medication should be closely monitored, especially at the beginning of treatment.

Psychotherapy, sometimes known as “talk therapy”, might include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  This form of therapy can be particularly effective because it invites the client to closely examine thoughts and related behaviors, as well as reactions to certain situations. This can help unravel the anxiety inside by untangling the mess of thoughts and feelings.

The above method of exploring the purpose behind the anxiety can also be used with adolescents. In fact, using CBT with a teen might eventually lead to uncovering the purpose of panic attacks, as Hulley and Ecker pointed out. What they have found is that the panic attacks often stop. Perhaps the level of anxiety in an adolescent’s life might return to a level that is not just manageable, but absent.


Ecker, B. (2013). Treating anxiety symptoms: How to help clients confront their fears. Psychotherapy Networker, Washington, D.C.: March 2014.

– By Robert Hunt

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