Brief Strategic Therapy for Panic Attacks

Brief strategic therapy for panic attacks can reduce the intensity of your fear by rationalizing your focus and helping you change.
Brief Strategic Therapy for Panic Attacks
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Brief strategic therapy for panic attacks is highly effective. This psychological intervention helps you put concrete and innovative solutions into practice to break the cycle of fear, rationalize anxiety, and take control of your life. Another benefit of this therapy is that it takes place over a short period of time.

Montaigne said that few things are as frightening as fear itself. This is something that people who deal with phobias and panic attacks know very well. In these situations, one of two things might happen. The first is a maladaptive and irrational way of dealing with what’s happening.

The second and possibly more problematic scenario is related to the fear of losing control. It’s the anxiety that comes from the fear of experiencing an extreme psychophysiological reaction that makes you feel like you’re going to have a heart attack or even die. As you can imagine, this thought process is a true psychological prison.

Thus, concrete and effective strategies are the keys to helping people who deal with this and other conditions improve their quality of life. Patients also need useful solutions that don’t take a long time to implement. That’s why brief strategic therapy is such a good option that’s very popular with many different kinds of therapists.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

-Arthur C. Clarke-

Two human profiles, one made out of trash and the other out of plants.

The goals of brief strategic therapy

Brief strategic therapy is a psychotherapeutic model that’s as original as it is useful. Giorgio Nardone, an Italian psychotherapist, professor, and researcher, developed this solution-focused method. The approach also includes multiple theoretical foundations from Paul Watzlawick. Its foundational ideas are:

  • To help the patient solve seemingly complicated problems in a simple way.
  • Analyze the solutions that the patient uses to cope with their situation and try to identify where they’re failing. Then, help them find new strategies so they can drop the old, ineffective ones.
  • Help the patient discover abilities and resources that they didn’t know or had forgotten about. In other words, the therapist doesn’t offer their own solutions. Instead, an alliance is formed in which the expert guides the patient to discover their own potential.
  • This kind of therapy only lasts twenty sessions.
  • On one hand, brief strategic therapy will eliminate dysfunctional behavior. On the other, it provokes a change in the patient so they can build a new personal and interpersonal reality.

Studies such as this one from the University of Michigan support the effectiveness of brief strategic therapy, not only for panic attacks but also for social phobias, obsessions, psychosomatic disorders, depression, and eating disorders, among other conditions.

A brief strategic therapy session.

Brief strategic therapy for panic attacks

The goal of brief strategic therapy for panic attacks is to help the patient go from dysfunctional or altered homeostasis to a healthy homeostasis. The therapy involves communication between the therapist and the patient to identify what needs work and help the patient become aware of their maladaptive thought processes and behaviors.

To do that, therapists use the following strategies:

  • Pose questions to the patient that help them more accurately define the reality of their problem.
  • Use reorganizing and paraphrasing, a technique from Paul Watzlawick. This type of language uses metaphors, aphorisms, and other communication strategies to help the patient understand the root causes of their problems.
  • Brief strategic therapy for panic attacks also seeks to evoke certain feelings in the patient that facilitate a change of awareness.
  • This kind of therapy focuses on creating an alliance between two people in which the patient can identify the ineffective strategies they’ve been using. Consequently, they’ll be able to create well-adjusted coping mechanisms.
A rainbow reflected on someone's palm.

An example of brief strategic therapy

To help you understand how this therapy works in practice, here’s a step-by-step example of the process:

  • Description of the problem. The therapist asks the patient how they react every time they have a panic attack. Through a series of questions, the patient has to identify how they act, what they think, and if they’ve used any kind of coping mechanism to deal with the situation.
  • In the first few sessions, the patient has to understand the need to create changes. As Viktor Frankl. said, “When we’re no longer able to change a situation, we’re challenged to change ourselves”.
  • In the next phase, the prescriptive phase, the therapist creates a paradoxical provocation to make the patient feel responsible for themselves and to help them change their behavior. They usually recommend using a journal to record their day-to-day life, as well as their panic attacks. The patient should write down when the panic attack happens, its consequences, what they think, and how they react.
  • In the last phase, the therapist and patient work on the corrective emotional experience. The goal is that, when the patient discovers that they’re responsible for themselves, they’ll voluntarily start to control (and correct) their fears. The patient will finally understand that you can’t put a fire out by adding more wood to it. Instead, they’ll learn to put it out by slowly removing everything that’s flammable. That’s when they change.

In conclusion

Now you understand why brief strategic therapy is a common and popular approach to dealing with panic attacks. One thing that’s important to point out is that this approach doesn’t try to understand why the problem exists because that would make the therapy take much longer. Instead, it focuses on the problem itself in order to come up with concrete and effective solutions for each patient.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Nardone, G. Watzlawick, P (2014) Terapia Breve Estratégica. Paidós

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.