Why Classify Anxiety?

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • What's the point of classifying anxiety? If you've ever undertaken a little personal research into anxiety disorders you may have noticed the extent to which symptoms seem to overlap. Currently, 12 anxiety disorders and around 25 subtypes, with specific treatments for around half, are on the books; yet many treatments show considerable overlap. All this begs the question, what's the point of classifying anxiety disorders?


    And it's a perfectly reasonable question, particularly when we consider that anxiety symptoms often don't neatly fall into pre-established categories. For example, Someone who experiences panic attacks may also have symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder and be terrified of spiders (a specific phobia). So, why don't we dump the notion of classification and simply combine all these anxiety-related issues?

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    Well, the argument goes two ways. First, despite the overlap issue it is the experiences of people who principally suffer with one disorder that has enabled us to understand the development of that particular problem, the things that maintain it, and how best to treat it. This focus tells us that while the symptoms of anxiety share similarities there are sufficient differences between say, generalized anxiety and OCD, to merit further investigation. The correct diagnosis of an anxiety disorder influences treatment but just to confuse matters there are various treatment approaches. These range from the untested and frankly bizarre to those fully evaluated, regularly refined, ethical and endorsed by professional bodies. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most structured psychological therapy available. It is not for everyone but it has a proven track record that is as or more effective than medication.


    There are however calls for single treatment approaches. It is suggested this would benefit the countless numbers of people who fail to meet the diagnostic category for one or more anxiety disorders but who experience many of the distressing symptoms. And, as previously mentioned, many people experience more than one disorder. The notion of being treated for panic disorder before treatment can begin for say OCD seems, to many, to be long-winded and rather clumsy when there are central issues maintaining both.


    It's an interesting debate and no doubt one that will continue to be properly and systematically reviewed over time.

Published On: September 05, 2014