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The Road To Fort Worth

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What Is Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is a multiple phobia, which is considered to be an extreme fear of open spaces, crowds, shopping centers, enclosed spaces and airports.

The term is essentially a misnomer because agoraphobia is the fear of having a panic attack in a shopping center, enclosed space, etc., where escape would be difficult or embarrassing. A better name for agoraphobia would be panikosphobia, "fear of panic." The Greek god Pan was considered to be the source of irrational fear.

Development of agoraphobia follows the laws of classical learning theory. For illustration purposes, let's take a look at what happens when a toddler touches the glowing coils on a stove-top. He pulls his hand away from the burner swiftly and sobs, and his mother reprimands him to teach him not to touch the stove again. A few weeks later, he may have forgotten the incident, only to touch the burner again with he same results. It's unlikely that he'll go near the stove again.

A panic attack is the emotional equivalent of extreme and spontaneous physical pain. If a person with panic disorder has a panic attack in a shopping mall, he may return for another visit. If he has repeated panic attacks in the mall on different occasions, he will begin to avoid the mall. Eventually, he will avoid similar places where he's had panic attacks until his range of mobility is largely restricted. Severe agoraphobia will result in confinement to one's home.

The sequence of a panic attack is the onset of the panic attack with a cluster of physiological symptoms resulting in an array of thoughts that are then interpreted as dangerous by the victim. The result of the misinterpretation is an increased panic reaction that spirals out of control. When a person learns how to change his perception of the attack, viewing the process as less threatening, then the intensity of the event will lessen.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy offers a solution. Much of the evolving theory is a result of GIs returning home with PTSD, a reoccurring panic reaction with flashbacks of the battleground. Researchers realized that although the flashbacks couldn't be entirely eliminated, a person could learn to view them as a nonthreatening passing event, thereby reducing the impact of the episodes.

Experimentation using neuro-imaging technology is on the forefront of PTSD research. The goal of the studies is that by using a functional fMRI machine, hot spots in the brain can be viewed in real time and used as markers to guide a therapist in helping a client learn new behaviors.

Copyright ©2012 Michael Jackson Smith


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