Panic disorder is a disabling condition, but it can be successfully treated with the right help. If you think you suffer from panic disorder there are many ways to get the help you need including:

  • Contacting your general practitioner
  • Looking in the phone book for 'clinical psychologists' or 'psychiatrists'
  • Contacting one of the anxiety disorders support groups for help in finding a therapist (see Appendix 3)
  • Contacting a local university to see whether their psychology department offers treatment for the general public (alternatively, they may be conducting treatment research that you could participate in)
  • Looking on the internet
  • Looking in your local book shop to see what information is available.

What level of treatment do I need?

Some people with panic disorder can be successfully treated by their general practitioner. However, many will need specialised treatment by a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. This is often because the first treatment does not work, or because they need a combination of treatments, or because their panic disorder is severe and chronic. A clinical psychologist or psychiatrist with the right training and experience will be the most suitable person to diagnose and treat your anxiety disorder.

Why should I get help?

Panic attacks and avoidance can seriously get in the way of everyday life. Without seeking the right treatment, it is possible that many areas of your life will be affected such as relationships, productivity at work, social activities and your general mood.

People with panic disorder often experience depression. People often are told to 'get it together', 'snap out of it' and other unhelpful things. They probably do not say this to be cruel, but because they do not understand how awful it can be to have panic disorder. You are probably a better judge of whether you need help than your relatives and friends who may not be aware of how the problem interferes with your life. Top of page

What the research says

Research suggests that people who suffer from panic disorder:
  • Report that they feel disabled by their problem and this often interferes with work and other responsibilities
  • May lead restricted lives eg not driving far from home, missing special occasions due to their fear of panic attacks
  • Use more alcohol and other drugs, possibly as a way to deal with their distress
  • Think about suicide more often and have a greater risk of attempting suicide
  • Spend less time on interests, sports and other satisfying activities
  • Are often financially dependent on others
  • Spend more time in emergency departments, afraid they have a life threatening illness.

What will they ask about me?

When you go for treatment for panic disorder your health professional will first need to ask you a lot of questions to make sure that they know what the problem is. This is standard mental health assessment. A good mental health professional will want to understand your panics in detail. For example, What? When? How often? Where?

They will also ask you questions about your life, such as if there have been other difficulties in the past, whether you have had treatment before and so on.

A good mental health professional will also usually ask you to fill in some forms to confirm the diagnosis. Such forms may ask about your panics and avoidance directly, your mood, or about how the panics have affected your life. This will also be important to check at the end of your treatment to see if the treatment has been helpful. Top of page

How do I choose a therapist?

Many mental health professionals say they can treat panic disorder but some may not use effective treatments to do so. It is essential to choose a professional who is trained and experienced in the treatment strategies described in this guide.

It will also be important that you feel comfortable with the therapist you choose, as therapy can be a difficult and a very personal experience. It might be good to give the chosen therapist a chance to see if they are right. Don't change after the first session unless you are really not happy with them at all or you have good reason to believe that the treatment they describe does not fit with what you know to be effective.

It is recommended that you check their qualifications. The following are possible qualifications that you would probably like to know about. There may be others.

For general practitioners:

  • Are they a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (FRACGP)?
  • Are they a member of their local Division of General Practice?
  • Do they have a Masters of Psychological Medicine from the University of New South Wales or Monash University?

For psychiatrists:

  • Are they a Fellow of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (FRANZCP) or of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (FRCPsych)?

For psychologists:

  • Are they a registered psychologist? They need to show this on their letterhead.
  • Do they have a Masters degree in clinical psychology (MPsychol) or a postgraduate qualifications such as a PhD in clinical psychology or a diploma in clinical psychology?
  • Are they a member of the Australian Psychological Society (MAPS) and of the Society's College of Clinical Psychology?
  • Are they a member of the Australian Association for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

Other things to consider:

Are they familiar with the latest information from scientific studies?
Do they share information with you?
Do they consider your say in decisions?
Do they check the quality / outcome of their treatment? Top of page

What if I live outside of the big cities and towns?

Getting treatment can be hard if you live far from major cities and towns. If you can't find someone to deliver the treatments discussed in this guide then you might need to think about self-treatment, self help of other kinds or travelling to get specialist help. The books mentioned in the reading list in Appendix 3 may be useful. The Internet is a good place to find information and it may be helpful to 'chat' to people in 'chat rooms'.