Brief Interventions for Anxiety Disorders with Children and Adults

Section 6
Losing Control - 3 Strategies for Distancing and Experiencing Anxiety

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3 Strategies for Distancing from Anxiety

♦ 1. Replacing Passive Statements with Active Statements: As we have said, the anxious person does not really "own" his emotions but often attributes them to other people and to external events. This passive role makes your client unable to see how he is creating his own feelings. A typical client will say "he," "she," or "it" was making me anxious. I encourage the client to make such effective statements in the active, for example, "I was making myself anxious," rather than the passive ("It was making me anxious").

♦ 2. Replacing "Why" Questions with "How" Questions: When the patient asks himself why he is anxious or why he cannot control his anxiety, he ends up with more thinking and less awareness. However, by focusing on how he is making himself anxious, he switches out of the thinking self and into the observing self.

♦ 3. Approaching Fears: An overriding strategy is for the client to approach what he fears. One reason is to provide the client with opportunities to discover what is feared. I, like you, find most clients are unable to identify their automatic thoughts and specific fears in the office but need to be in the anxiety situation to do so.

Experiencing Anxiety
Quite often the therapist has to work with the client to design ways for him to experience the anxiety so that he can discover his thinking. This is often the case with phobias where the client succeeds in avoiding the fear stimulus. Adam, with speech anxiety and with no speeches on the horizon, for example, was encouraged to ask questions at meetings he attended, a procedure that will usually produce the same or similar anxiety responses. Adam was able to identify his automatic thoughts by asking himself as he saw others giving speeches, "If I was up there right now, what would I be afraid of?"

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