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Person Centred Therapy for Anxiety

Anxiety can be described as a feeling of unease, worry, fear or apprehension. It is very common for most people to experience anxiety from time to time. If the anxiety is due to psychological issues then it can sometimes return time and again. Person centred therapy can help address the root cause of anxiety.

Anxiety can disrupt part of our brain, reducing our ability to think clearly, manage emotions and control impulses. Effectively part of our brain has been hijacked! There are ways to alleviate symptoms by practising certain techniques to help keep you in the present moment. Relaxation techniques such as exercise, meditation, yoga, art etc can help.

How anxiety develops according to person centred theory.

Anxiety occurs when certain experiences (external or visceral) have been denied or distorted to conscious awareness to protect and preserve the person’s self structure. In other words when a person’s concept of themself comes under threat a person may deny or distort the experience to protect their self concept.

person centered therapy for anxiety article image of a woman on a paddle board

How does therapy help alleviate anxiety

Therapy helps a person integrate these denied and distorted experiences and help symbolise them accurately into a person’s awareness. This is not dissimilar to Jungian psychology. Carl Jung talked of making the unconscious conscious and believed an unconscious secret can take a life of its own.

Integrating these experiences and reorganising them into the personality can sometimes be slow, painful and sometimes frightening. It can also be an exciting and exhilarating experience as psychological defences are peeled back and you begin to discover the real you.

Here is a typical example of a client coming into therapy for anxiety.

Anxiety Therapy Case study : Dave

Dave has been suffering with stress and he has noticed every time he attends a staff meeting he becomes anxious. He feels nervous, shaky, has sweaty palms and a general feeling of unease. He doesn’t know why it is happening and for months he has ignored his feelings.

During therapy Dave is able to explore these feelings. It came to light that during family meals and family gatherings when he was growing up he was often humiliated and put down. Up until now he has never really recognised or accepted these experiences, essentially denying and distorting them. He said the bodily feeling of being under stress and the feeling he had at the work meetings reminded him of family gatherings. (Perhaps the brain is mistaking the present work situation for the past).

When he started to look at his life experiences his anxiety initially got worse as his self concept became threatened. The therapist allowed him to sit with the anxiety enabling Dave to ‘accurately symbolise’ those experiences. Rejigging the puzzle if you like and putting the pieces back in a different order. Dave sat with these experiences discussing various thoughts, emotions and sensations that came up for him.

The therapy allows Dave to psychologically adjust himself and in this process he becomes less anxious. By sitting with these experiences rather than pushing them away new perspectives can form. If emerging material is pushed away it is likely to revisit them later on. This process can happen quickly or it may take some time. One job of the therapist is to provide a safe therapeutic space so that a person can explore themselves safely.


Sometimes there may be a high amount of denied and distorted material and if this emerges into a person's awareness too quickly psychological breakdown can occur. The person centred approach to therapy runs at the client’s own pace.

Beneficial effects of therapy

Many people begin to discover the real them. They become more able to live in the moment accepting both good and bad experiences and the range of positive and negative emotions that come with those experiences. Living life more real, more fully. People often become less rigid in their beliefs and thought processes and as psychological defences relax they sometimes find themselves relaxing physiologically. People often become happier in their own skin and more trusting of their own wants and needs.

I hope you enjoyed this article.

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