Benefits and Limitations of Psychotherapy for Anxiety Disorders

Health Writer

Many people with anxiety disorders turn to psychotherapy to address their symptoms, usually either psychodynamic therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Both have benefits and limitations. Which is best for you depends on your individual needs and preferences. Below are some of the features, benefits and limitations of each to help you decide which is best for you.

Psychodynamic therapy

While you talk with your therapist in both psychodynamic therapy and CBT, when you think about talk therapy, you probably mean psychodynamic therapy. This type of therapy is focused on finding the reasons behind your emotional issues. The therapist then helps you to address and work through these issues. The therapist might focus on childhood or family problems. Many people have been helped by psychodynamic therapy, and proponents believe it can bring about lasting changes because it addresses the root causes of emotional issues.

Other benefits include:

  • A close, therapeutic relationship with your therapist

  • Treatment is thorough and can continue as long as you and your therapist feel there is a benefit

  • It allows you to talk about past problems in a nonjudgmental environment

  • It helps you identify underlying issues that might be causing emotional distress

There are also limitations:

  • It is usually takes longer than CBT, sometimes lasting for several years

  • Therapy sessions are unstructured, although for some people, this might be a benefit, which means a therapy session could be spent talking about things that don’t immediately address your anxiety

  • Some people are uncomfortable talking about their history or past problems, which can delay any progress

When you first start psychodynamic therapy, you might feel intimidated. Your therapist might ask a lot of questions about how you are feeling and your past experiences. This is part of the process and helps the therapist find out about you.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

CBT is much more structured and goal-oriented. CBT is based on the belief that the way you think affects how you feel and behavior and that when you change your perception of a situation, you can change how you feel about it. During this type of therapy, you learn strategies for questioning the validity of your thoughts and changing thought patterns. Your therapist might also work with you on developing self-help techniques, such as relaxation techniques.

The benefits include:

  • The length of therapy is usually much shorter, averaging between 12 and 16 weeks

  • Its goals include teaching strategies you can use throughout your life

  • It offers a practical approach to dealing with anxiety and depression

  • Sessions are highly structured, enabling you to know what to expect each time

As with psychodynamic therapy, CBT isn’t for everyone. Usually, minimal time is spent talking about your history or past problems. The talk focuses instead on logic. Some people find this uncomfortable and would prefer a more open type of therapy.

Other disadvantages include:

  • Strategies can seem superficial, failing to address the "real" problem

  • CBT includes homework and effort from you outside of the therapist’s office, which some people do not want to do

  • Some people feel they are being talked out of emotions and are expected to use logic too often

Whether you choose psychodynamic therapy or CBT, it is important to remember that there is no quick fix, and that managing anxiety takes both time and commitment. However, with whichever method you choose, there is a good chance you will feel better. According to the American Psychological Association, 75 percent of people who enter some type of psychotherapy receive benefit, and 80 percent are better off at the end of their treatment than those who did not receive any treatment.

See More Helpful Articles:

What to Expect From Therapy: A Brief Guide

What Is Exposure Therapy?

When to Seek Therapy for Anxiety

Group Therapy for Social Anxiety


Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.