Reid Wilson on Strategic Treatment of Anxiety Disorders

Reid Wilson on Strategic Treatment of Anxiety Disorders

by Victor Yalom
Leading anxiety disorder expert Reid Wilson, PhD,  discusses strategic cognitive therapy and his paradoxical interventions and exposure techniques that target some of the most vexing and treatment-resistant anxiety disorders.


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What is Anxiety?

Victor Yalom: So, Reid—good to be here with you. I guess a good place to start would be to define what anxiety is and how you distinguish between normal, healthy anxiety and irrational or counterproductive anxiety?
Reid Wilson: Well, that's a broad question. We're programmed to be anxious when we feel threatened—whether it's an immediate threat or a distal threat—so anxiety disorders break down, in some ways, like that. Someone with panic disorder is threatened by an immediate danger; someone with generalized anxiety disorder tends to worry about things coming far in the future. We define people who have anxiety disorders, loosely, as those who have irrational fears of those kinds of threats.

But the body responds impeccably to false messages. That's part of the trouble of trying to help people get better—so much of the anxiety disorder symptoms have to do with naturally occurring responses to a perceived threat. So in many ways, as we do the treatment, we work against nature for a while until we can bring someone into balance.

VY: Before we get into treatment, let me try and understand that a little better. Anxiety is a natural mechanism to protect us against threats, but when it becomes counterproductive, or when our sensation of anxiety doesn't match what's going on in our environment, it becomes a disorder.
RW: Right.
VY: And the range of anxiety disorders is quite diverse, right? You have general anxiety disorder, panic attacks, specific phobias, OCD, PTSD. Is there a commonality among those? Is it useful to think of those together, or are there things that are quite discrete?
RW: I think that the most difficult one to sort out is post-traumatic stress disorder and there's a tremendous number of researchers who are trying to figure out what the common denominators are within post-traumatic stress disorder. With the other disorders, there is a great deal of commonality. People with anxiety disorders have an intolerance of uncertainty and distress, and much of what we need to address in treatment is about resistance—about all the fighting and pushing away of symptoms that people with anxiety disorders use to stay out of discomfort. It's not so much that someone’s having uncomfortable symptoms, it’s their response to their symptoms. Their tendency is to go, "This is terrible. I can't handle this. I need to escape," and we need to change that response.

What varies is the contribution of genetics. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is almost completely genetic, whereas someone with a specific phobia of animals can have little or no genetic influences and be much more influenced by traumatic experiences or environmental factors.

In terms of how people respond, there's a lot of commonality as well. That's why part of what I've been trying to work on over the years is how to peel away all these innovations and exercises and structures that we use for people with anxiety disorders down to the lowest common denominator.
VY: I've seen you work with clients, and this idea about changing their response to their symptoms seems to be a core of your approach, but it’s kind of counterintuitive to clients as well the therapist. Can you say a little bit more about that?
RW: Sure, but it's not like I have invented a system that hasn't been around for a while. If we look at what's been going on with mindfulness approaches to treatment, some of the work that's been done in Buddhism for a couple of thousand years has to do with stepping back and observing the present moment, not reacting to it personally, and not taking the events to heart, as most people do. Part of what I have been trying explore is how you get people from point A to point B as efficiently as possible.

From Resistance to Detachment

VY: And what's point A? What's point B?
RW: Point A is what we've been speaking of, which is the resistance, the fighting, the trying to get away—“It's bad or wrong that I'm experiencing this.” Point B is detachment. When people resist their experience of anxiety or panic, there is a significant amount of psychic energy invested in that resisting. When working with people, I try to respect the degree of energy that's going into the fight.

To expect our clients to move from the intense energy of resistance all the way to detachment is too grand an expectation. That’s why we have a lot of trouble keeping people in treatment, or even having people begin the treatment to start with. When you’re shopping around for help with your anxiety, what you hear is, "You’re going to have to do exposure over a number of weeks or maybe months. You’re going to have to go toward these terribly uncomfortable feelings and sit with them for a length of time, and then you will begin to notice a change." But people who suffer from anxiety disorders are concerned with the immediate moment. Everything gets very tight for them. Their concern is, “but what do I do right now?" That's what I want to present to people.
VY: Just so I understand, when you talk about resistance and all the energy that goes into resisting, how would this work with panic disorders? Is it that lot of time and discomfort is about anticipating and fearing the panic attack rather than the panic attack itself?
RW: Certainly. A panic attack, which lasts for 30 seconds—actually that is a relatively long panic attack—is less than .1 percent of the day, but people will focus the entire day on trying to prevent themselves from experiencing another panic attack. Somebody with obsessive-compulsive disorder may only wash their hands for 25 minutes a day, or check the doors and locks and windows for a half hour a day, but when you ask them how long they spend obsessing, they might say, "eight hours." It’s very consuming psychically. All that bracing is the energy that needs to be redirected toward getting better.
VY: So how do you get from A to B?
RW: I attempt to honor and respect the energy of the resistance and help clients use that energy in a different way. The opposite of being frightened and bracing against a sensation or a pending dangerous experience is to let go. But letting go doesn't represent a change in the emotional state. I believe we need to maintain the degree of emotion—so the opposite of terror is, to some degree, excitement or desire.

In other words, we're going to move toward that which we fear with a sense of zeal. It really gets crazy. It's already paradoxical to move toward it and here we're doubling down. It’s not, “Oh what I need to do is face my fear, therefore I'm going to step into that crowded elevator”; it's, "I'm seeking out that state that I've been afraid of."

Exposure Plus

VY: So that's what you mean by "strategic therapy" or "paradoxical therapy”—encouraging people to go towards their fears with a kind of relish?
Strategic therapy is messing with patterns. So we're going to find the pattern, and then mess with it.
Strategic therapy is messing with patterns. So we're going to find the pattern, and then mess with it. Telling people to go toward what they fear is exposure, but we're trying to do exposure plus. Go toward it and change my emotional state to, "I want this feeling. I want this experience." But we need to be clear about what we are asking people to seek out. People with anxiety disorders have an intolerance of uncertainty and distress, so what they need to seek out is not that crowded elevator, not that battery they perceive is contaminated, but the generic sense of uncertainty and distress.

That’s a really the hard sell for people because it requires them to separate from the content of their worries and invite in more generic uncertainty and distress. And then the frame becomes, "I want to get better. I want to be with my family again. I want to be able to take the job on the 23rd floor. I want to fly to my cousin's wedding in three months.”

Habituation is a fundamental element of exposure therapy and we know from the research that it takes three variables to get fully habituated and get better: frequency, intensity and duration. So if they want to get better they need to have enough distress, frequently enough and for long enough to make this practice count.

But I want to teach them the most generic way to do this as possible, because what we know is that anxiety disorders run the life cycle. Somebody can finish treatment with us and be doing great and be down to "normal" in terms of anxiety, and then three years later have a whole other brush with either the same disorder or another anxiety disorder. So we want to train people in a protocol that they can brush off again and start using if and when they encounter the disorder again.

The Art of Persuasion

VY: How do you propose this to your clients in the first place, and how do you get them to that state of wanting to go towards their fear?
RW: Persuasively. That's my job—to find any and every mechanism to help change their mind. So I'm going to work at the level of frame of reference and I'll use examples of other patients. I'll use metaphors, I'll give analogies, I'll use logic, whatever I can use. I told a woman the other day, "If your son were in fifth grade and had to play the guitar every night, you could imagine him going, 'Darn, I have to practice now.' But if he sat down with his high-school cousin who plays in a rock band, and saw how cool it was, this fifth grader would begin to want to practice guitar every night. You can imagine the difference between a fifth grader having to practice for an hour, and a fifth grader wanting to practice for an hour.” That is the kind of shift I’m seeking for my clients and I’ll use these kinds of analogies to help them understand it on a deeper level. Every angle I can find to start loosening up their rigidity and resistance.
VY: We recently filmed you treating two clients for a new video series on Strategic Treatment of Anxiety Disorders that we’re releasing along with this interview, and one thing I noticed about you is you really take charge. You're very directive. You tell the clients what to do. You tell them what may happen.

It's very different than a lot of therapists are trained. I think whether we're trained from a more client-centered or psychodynamic point of view, that legacy of therapists being somewhat passive and letting the client lead the way has seeped into so much of our training as therapists. I'm wondering if you've observed that therapists have a hard time with taking charge in the way that you do.
RW: I would challenge what you're saying because, yes, I'm dogmatic and I boss people around and I can be very dominant. On the other hand, I also try to come across one-down in certain situations.
Yes, I'm dogmatic and I boss people around, but I also try to come across one-down in certain situations.
"I'm not sure about what I'm saying right now, but what do you think?" I turn back to them to find out whether they're starting to understand what I'm saying. I give them a protocol but say, "It's an experiment. Let's gather information about it." There is a balance between coming on very strongly to somebody and, at the same time, accessing a sense of curiosity.

When I train therapists to do this, it's somewhat intimidating to them and counter to how they have learned to do treatment. But we're also talking about therapists who come in to get trained because the patients or clients that they see are pretty tough nuts to crack and they need some therapeutic leverage to help people move along. So I think they are also receptive to the ideas.
VY: One client that we see you working with in Exposure Therapy for Phobias, presents with a fear of flying, which, upon exploration with her, you narrow down to claustrophobia—a fear of enclosed spaces and suffocation, not being able to breathe. You do classic exposure therapy with her—which I had heard and read about but never seen in action—where you actually put a nose clip on her, put a pillowcase on her head and wrap that pillowcase with tape. Later you get her to go inside an enclosed box. That requires, first of all, that therapists get out of their cozy chairs and stand up and move around. That’s something that many therapists have no experience doing.
RW: Sure, it's a big step but people are relatively motivated because we have a certain percentage of people with anxiety disorders that have very rigid belief systems. If you don't find a way to start cracking that belief system open, it's very frustrating for you as a therapist.

Chasing the Anxiety Boogeyman

VY: So give us a sense of how this works over time. I get the general principals, but how does it actually play out over sessions?
RW: Well, I work at the level of principles so I am not technique-focused, and that already makes me a little different than other CBT therapists. I don't start with, "Here's how you get better." I start at the level of, "Here's how I perceive what's going on now for you. Help me understand. You know yourself—let's see if we've got a match here."

Psychoeducation is a big part what I do, particularly around the physiological and neurological aspects of these disorders. I talk about the neurology of fear and what happens with the amygdala when we are scaring ourselves.
Psychoeducation is a big part what I do, particularly around the physiological and neurological aspects of these disorders. I talk about the neurology of fear and what happens with the amygdala when we are scaring ourselves. It’s important for everyone to understand this aspect, which has to do with bringing the amygdala into the threatening situation and letting it just sit there and experience the situation and discover that it's secreting too much epinephrine. We do that by quieting the prefrontal cortex. We need to stop scaring our amygdalas so that we can be present in the elevator, in the grocery store, with our heart rate accelerated, and discover that it doesn't need to make me us excited.

A lot of the crazy kind of talking we engage in has to do with refocusing the attention of the prefrontal cortex so that it doesn't keep continually saying, "Uh oh." We’re trying to override that message with an executive voice that says, "I can handle this. Let's go toward this." So we need that in place.

And then we're sending people out with experiments to do in which they notice those thoughts popping up or have that sensation in their body that's been scaring them and then step back enough to go, "It's happening—it's okay this is happening," and then transform it to, "I want this. Give me more."

My orientation is a set of principles founded on the notion that content is irrelevant. That's the first step that I need to get across to everyone. Then I personify the anxiety disorder to help them detach from the content of their worries. I’ll say something like, “The anxiety disorder hooks you by picking a topic that is personal to you. That’s how it creates doubt and resistance in you.”

So, for example, if you’re a single mother with three kids and have just lost your job and are not sure how you’re going to pay the rent in two months, that's very stressful for you and it certainly is going to cause you to worry. But if you develop a sub-routine of worrying throughout the day about it, there's no redeeming value in that process. So in your case I’ll say, “the anxiety disorder picks the fact that you’re going to have a hard time paying your rent and taking care of your kids. That’s a topic that’s threatening to you as a parent with young children.”
VY: But why do you personify? Why do you say, "it picks?" Do you actually believe that, or is that a tool that's helpful?
RW: Do I actually believe that? What we're trying to do is put into language something that's unconscious, so I believe not so much that as—
VY: There's no an anxiety boogeyman out there trying to get us, right?
RW: Well, maybe. What I believe is that to perceive it in that manner is therapeutic. It is a way to begin to get a sense of what's going on. That's what I want to do—help clients get ownership in comprehending the disorder. What is the nature of the disorder? Why is it running me? In many ways, I'm unconscious of the game that's being played on me, so I want to bring that up to consciousness.
VY: Alright. So going back to the example of the single mother and her worrying throughout the day, what do you do with that?
RW: First off is to distinguish the content. If I don't distinguish the content from the process, she's going to think I'm crazy, because she should be worried. So first we isolate out worries that are signals: "I need to go find another job and I need to go to the government to see if they can help me for this period of time”—these are worries that she actually has a responsibility for and can take some action on, and now is the right time to take action. That would be the definition of a worry that is a signal, and we're not working on those so much, though we certainly have to problem-solve.
VY: That's what you would call normal or adaptive anxiety.
RW: Right, exactly. We're separating that out. We do need to do problem-solving. If I can help you with that, then I'm going to work with you on that too. But on the other side is the worry that is just noise—repetitious, unproductive thinking that causes distress. That’s the content that is irrelevant and that's what we want to isolate. So we've got the circumstances of your life, and then we've got how the anxiety disorder has come in and taken hold of that.

Another example: If you’re afraid to fly, I'm going to try to teach you interventions to relax on the plane; but if you think the bolts are going to fall off the wings, there's nothing I'm going to do to help you be comfortable. That would be inappropriate.

If instead we can change the story and get somebody who has a fear of flying to understand that the discomfort they’re feeling is inside them, is their responsibility—it's not about the pilot or bad mechanics—then perfect. That's what I want. People come in with a list of 15 things they don't like about flying, but if they can say, “basically it comes down to feeling out of control," we’re in business. That's a theme of all anxiety disorders that we want them to understand.

The second piece is coming to accept their obsessive thoughts. Whether it’s, “when can I pay my bills?” or “was that battery contaminated?” their job is to accept them, to be fine with them. That can seem like a crazy intervention for people because we don't go the route of reassurance around content. Instead we’re asking them to say: “It's fine. That thought popped up because I have an anxiety disorder. That's what we do. We generate thoughts that freak us out. And so instead of freaking out about it, when it shows up, I'm going to accept it."

In order to get to the place of acceptance, we're going to play some kooky games, like, "Give me your best shot” and “I'm not worried enough—make me more worried."

The Anxiety Game

VY: You use the term "games" a lot. What do you mean by games?
RW: Perceiving the disorder as a mental game. Personifying the disorder. When I have an obsessive thought or an anticipatory worry or dread that I know is noise, I want to step back and notice it. That, in itself, is an intervention: "Oh, I'm worrying again. Oh, there's that thought." Now the next thing I am asking people to do, if they're going to play the game vigorously, is to ask the disorder to increase those reactions that they’re having.

So, for example, if I'm having a worry about not being able to pay the rent at the end of the month and that's scaring the bejeezus out of me, I'm going to step back and notice it, acknowledge I'm feeling afraid about it, and request that the anxiety disorder increase my worry: "Please give me another fearful thought. That really scares me, but not quite enough." So I'm always turning to the disorder and requesting it increase what it just gave me.

Viktor Frankl was the first person to write about paradoxical intention, and how he framed it was: Look for your predominant uncomfortable sensation and ask that sensation to increase.
VY: This is what was referred to as “paradoxical therapy.”
RW: "Paradoxical intention" was what Frankl wrote about in Logotherapy. And I did that for 20 years or so, but about 10 years ago I made a little switch—from asking my heart to beat faster to asking panic disorder to make my heart beat faster.

That does an interesting thing which is, "I'm no longer responsible for increasing my heart rate. The panic disorder is responsible for it. I can now turn my attention back to my task of the moment.” Now, when you're really anxious, you're not going to get very far away from your fear; your obsession may show up again in eight seconds. But my position is to return to that request—"Please make my heart beat faster."
VY: It sounds kind of ludicrous.
RW: It's absurd.
VY: Right.
RW: And that's what we're looking for.
VY: And how do clients respond to that, typically?
RW: Well, as long as I have them long enough. If they heard me in a lecture hall, they might walk away shaking their head, but if I have enough time with them, they can see what it’s like. We go through it for a while and, if I can convey it to them well enough and convince them to try it out, in low-grade experiences where they're not highly threatened, they can experience themselves getting better. Experience is the greatest teacher. That’s why I want to convince them to experiment with it to one degree or another.

You really have three choices: Resist, permit or provoke. And I think much of the treatment of anxiety disorders over the last years has been to “permit” symptoms, to “allow” myself to be anxious. Allow things to sit there inside me. Allow the worries to show up. But that's where people are going to finish the work; it's not where I think people should begin the work—which is to provoke that which they’re afraid of.
VY: I had the pleasure of getting to know you a bit making these videos with you and I must say you're a funny guy. When you do these paradoxical interventions, there's a humorous side to it that fits with your personality. But does that work for everyone? Can therapists who have more sober personalities find a way to play with this?
RW: I don't know how much humor is required in these protocols, but it's a resource that I have and we use what we have. The most important thing, I think, is the resource of making contact and getting rapport with people and you can do that from the very beginning; and then it's trying to access curiosity. I don't think you have to have humor in order to authentically invest in being curious about, "What will this do for you if you try this out?" You know, I do talk about principles, but this is psychotherapy and it takes some finesse to help someone. I think people who have a lot of training in psychotherapy know how to do some of that stuff.
VY: I know it's very hard to make generalities in therapy, but do you have a typical length of treatment for certain types of disorders?
RW: We typically have a 12-session intervention for people with panic disorder but we've got new data published that they've brought it down to five sessions. If we can unbundle what we've been doing and go to that lowest common denominator for intervention, we can shorten things up. It takes longer with Axis II disorders because those are woven into the fabric of the personality, so even though we can create a protocol, and they can use that protocol, it may take months for them to finish off that work for themselves, versus somebody with panic disorder who, in a very brief period of time, can be up like a phoenix.

The interesting research that's being done now is on ultra-brief treatment of panic disorder—even of post traumatic stress disorder—where they have been able to put a protocol in place successfully in five sessions with somebody with PTSD, which seems pretty remarkable to me.
VY: But many therapists, whether they're in private practice or some kind of agency or other setting, tend to see clients that are a mixed bag. They come in for relationship problems or work issues or some anxiety and depression and, whether they're Axis II or just have general life problems, their anxiety disorder is only a part of the clinical picture. How do you use these techniques within the context of a longer-term therapy?
RW: When I do presentations for therapists who are treating clients with anxiety disorders—whether they have other comorbid disorders or not—I try to get them to think about how they can structure their sessions in such a way that clients leave each session looking for an opportunity to experience some degree of uncertainty and distress regarding the themes of their anxiety.

That's a pretty simple protocol for the therapist. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how to do this work—look at me. It's a difficult treatment, but it's not a complex treatment
VY: What makes it difficult for therapists? What's hard to learn about this?
RW: It's difficult because you're looking at somebody who's been entrenched in their way of solving the problem for a long time. You've got a client who does not tolerate not knowing how things are going to turn out. You've got a client who, as they try to experiment with something you're suggesting, must trust you and trust the protocol without knowing how it's going to turn out.

That is the difficulty, because the disorder doesn't allow them to feel confident. And if you listen to clients when you talk to them as they're intently trying to learn what you have to give to them, they're looking for security in what you offer them. "I'll be glad to do what you tell me to do as long as you'll give me a 100 percent guarantee I'll have zero symptoms ever again." And that's not going to work. Einstein said: "“You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.” That's the thread that runs through all of the treatment.
VY: I would imagine it’s also hard for therapists because they’re natural caretakers, they’re empathic, they want their clients to feel better…
RW: We do have this tendency in our field to keep rapport and be gentle, to not get people too upset. I think a lot of people gravitate to the treatment of anxiety disorders because they have an affinity to that arena. They know what it's like to be anxious, they may have anxiety problems themselves, they’ve figured out some techniques and want to help others with it. But this is a contact sport. It's aggressive. It works better when you've got a therapist who is already a risk taker.
This is a contact sport. It's aggressive. It works better when you've got a therapist who is already a risk taker.
It's like the primary care physician who’s trying to help you decelerate from a benzodiazepine that you’re dependent on. When they're really kind and gentle with you, it sometimes takes forever to get off of them. When they're a little tougher with you and push, then sometimes it works out better for you.
VY: So you need to be comfortable pushing a client into discomfort.
RW: That's right.

The Meaning of Anxiety

VY: Existentialists such as Rollo May, who wrote the classic text, The Meaning of Anxiety, and other existentially-oriented psychotherapists would and have argued that there's meaning in anxiety and we can learn about ourselves, about life, have insight, by delving into it—that it's not something that should be brushed aside. Do you think that there's meaning in anxiety? 
RW: Well it's fine to look at it that way, and on an individual-to-individual basis you may have to delve into that. But it does not mean that someone has to continue to express their anxiety in such a primitive fashion. People with panic disorder are expressing conflict very primitively. I certainly believe with panic disorder—and I've written about this—that there are benevolent purposes of the symptoms. And to look at those and understand those are helpful, but once we understand them, let's negotiate another way to get those needs met.
VY: What are the benevolent purposes of the symptoms of panic disorder?
RW: It’s often to keep from being abandoned. There’s some data that a certain percentage of people with panic disorder suffered early childhood loss. Let’s say my father died when I was four, and my mother got severely depressed and laid on the couch every day. There are a lot of ways that I would have learned to cope as a child with that kind of loss. As I grow up, that stuff, existentially, kind of becomes who I am in the world. If my mother turns away from me because my dad left or my father left and never talked to me about why he left, I begin to think that I am not worthy as a human being. What parent, who loves his child, would abandon his child? There must be something inherently wrong with me. Some people with panic disorder use it unconsciously to maintain relationships so that their partner, their parent, whoever, won't abandon them. That's a benevolent purpose.
VY: So there's secondary gain in that.
RW: That’s kind of a derogatory term, but it’s something like that. If we can step back and look at how the unconscious might have stepped in to take care of me, based on my belief about who I am from long ago, then there is a benevolent purpose behind why it showed up.

I had a patient who came to me with OCD. She had two children with a workaholic physician who didn't help with the kids at all. Her biological clock was ticking. She wanted to have another baby, but was concerned about her ability to take care of three kids instead of two. One day, she saw her son chasing her daughter with a kitchen knife and instantly she developed obsessive-compulsive disorder. She couldn’t stop thinking, "Oh my God. Could I hurt someone with a kitchen knife?" She had to get rid of all the knives in the house, everything sharp, all the scissors; no children could come over and be in her home for fear she would harm them. And of course, she was then too sick to have another baby.

So that’s another example of a benevolent purpose of the disorder. I think we do want to look around for some of those things and begin to take care of those, too. If the unconscious is driving some of this stuff that we aren't aware of, then we're going to have trouble helping people get better. The other definition of "strategic treatment" is doing whatever is necessary to help somebody get better. So if we need to do some family therapy or psychodynamic work or couples work or Sullivanian work—whatever it takes to help them turn the corner.
VY: It's nice that there are cognitive-behaviorists who acknowledge unconscious psychodynamics. You're very integrated. It seems like you really strive to hone in on what works.
RW: I hope that's true. We just got some new data that suggest that that can help people more rapidly change their relationship with the disorder. We just did a study of people with obsessive-compulsive disorder going through this protocol, 80 people at a time, for two days. And the changes that took place were pretty remarkable, in terms of the measurements of the reduction of their obsessive-compulsive disorder and in altering their beliefs.

If you just think about OCD being one standard deviation beyond the mean, where people get so totally caught up in obsessions and rigid belief systems, it’s quite amazing that we can bring about lasting change after only a few days.

Getting to "Aha"

Some folks have done some interesting research on what we called "applied relaxation," which is learning relaxation skills and applying them to a variety of situations. In six sessions of an hour and a half each, then another six sessions of 45 minutes each, with practice homework throughout that time period, the major thing that these people changed after all this work was their beliefs.

If that's true, then
I think we should be leading with belief change instead of leading with interventions that require a great deal of time to give someone insight and then for them to go, "Aha."
I think we should be leading with belief change instead of leading with interventions that require a great deal of time to give someone insight and then for them to go, "Aha." That's how exposure and response prevention happens. We're going to run them through this protocol until weeks or months later they go, "Oh, I see now. I don't have to do my compulsion to get rid of my obsession." Can we speed that up? I think we can.
VY: Final question. What advice would you give for students or early career therapists treating this population? Any pearls of wisdom?
RW: Look for any way to sit in on someone doing treatment with someone using these kinds of protocols. See how this works. That’s part of our motivation to get these anxiety disorder videos out there, so that people can immerse themselves moment-by-moment in this protocol. Whenever I do a workshop to teach these skills for therapists, it would be totally and completely fine for clients to be sitting in on the workshop as well because they can understand it just as easily.

When I was in training and working with couples or borderline personalities for the first time, I'd go into supervision and say, "Okay. She said this. Now what do I say?" And he would help me figure that out. And then I would say, "Yeah but what if she responds like this? Then what do I say?" It can be daunting if you've not done this and observed it directly.
VY: Well I have always felt that we are a strange profession. You wouldn't have dental students read about doing a filling and then send them off to do it without watching someone and then come back a week later to meet with a supervisor in a closed room and try to recall how they did their fillings. In fact, that was one of the reasons I started making training videos in the first place.

I'm grateful that you consented to have your sessions recorded and I'm excited to release them and make them available for people who want to learn about the innovative approaches that you developed. So thank you so much for taking the time to go into this level of detail.
RW: Well, thank you as well for giving me the opportunity.

Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved. Published August 2012.
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Reid Wilson R. Reid Wilson, PhD is a licensed psychologist who directs the Anxiety Disorders Treatment Center in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina. He is also Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Wilson specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders and is the author of Don’t Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks (Harper Perennial, 1996), Facing Panic: Self-Help for People with Panic Attacks (Anxiety Disorders Association of America, 2003), and is co-author with Edna Foa of Stop Obsessing! How to Overcome Your Obsessions and Compulsions (Bantam, 2001). Wilson served on the Board of Directors of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America for twelve years and was Program Chair of the National Conferences on Anxiety Disorders from 1988-1991. In 2014 The Anxiety and Depression Association of America honored Wilson for a lifetime of service in treating anxiety disorders, awarding him the Jerilyn Ross Clinician Advocate Award at its annual conference in Chicago.

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Victor Yalom Victor Yalom, PhD is the founder and resident cartoonist of He maintained a busy private practice in San Francisco for over 25 years, but now sees only a few clients, devoting the bulk of his time to creating new training videos for He has produced over 100 videos, conducted workshops in existential-humanistic and group therapy in the US, Mexico, and China, and currently leads consultation groups for therapists.  More info on Victor and his artwork and sculpture at

CE credits: 1.5

Learning Objectives:

  • List the key component of Wilson' strategic treatment of anxiety disorders
  • Apply paradoxical intervention techniques with your own anxious clients
  • Describe the process of moving clients from resistance to detachment from their symptoms.

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