I have been seeing people for anxiety now since 1994. That is, almost 25 years of clients. I’m not sure how many people that amounts to, but it is in the thousands. In all of these years, I have never seen a single client who has not had some type of stressful life event that was associated with the onset of anxiety. Sometimes it is childhood bullying. Sometimes it is a death in the family. Sometimes it is a relationship breakup. Sometimes it is a blocked career.
But there is always something that caused the client deep distress and led them into the cycle of behaviours that we understand as anxiety. The strange thing is that clients themselves are often unaware of this connection. More than this, they do not even realise that they experienced a stressful life event.
Here is an example. One woman I saw insisted that there was nothing traumatic that occurred at the time of onset. But then 30 minutes later it transpired that her sister was kidnapped just before onset. Bingo!
For me, the first step in treatment is helping people to understand that their anxiety is not some kind of pathological condition. It is something that arises from their experience of the world. And just as it comes from their experience of the world, so it can be fixed by smart behavioural therapies. Anxiety is not a life sentence!