Slowing Down and Unmasking the Panic Monster:
The "MAP" Program
-- by Neal Sideman

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"MAP” – Mastery of Your Anxiety and Panic – is an extraordinary version of cognitive-behavioral therapy developed by Dr. David Barlow and Dr. Michelle Craske, two of the world's leading experts in this field.  Through my work with a therapist experienced in this approach, I was able to achieve my own complete healing and cure from panic disorder and agoraphobia.

Evelyn Stewart, in her book "Life with the Panic Monster", talks about her experiences with therapy.  She says that learning to understand panic is helpful, but only up to a point.  She observes that being logical and reasonable is great, but in the midst of an attack, panic "rolls over your puny logic like a Mack Truck over a possum".

In the MAP program, you actually slow down the "Mack truck" panic response.  Through a series of exercises that are gradual and manageable, you intentionally bring on aspects of your panic response, one at a time.  Examples of exercises are intentional hyperventilating and spinning. You gradually learn, through these exercises, to no longer fear the different sensations that result from the "fight or flight" response.

It's as though the panic monster, instead of driving a Mack truck, is now pedaling a tricycle.  He is moving in slow motion, and you have time to really learn and apply the powerful techniques of cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Through practice, you begin to understand panic in a new way.  Instead of seeing your panic response as one overwhelming "thing", you begin to see that it is actually composed of a number of different elements.  These elements are physical sensations and "catastrophic thoughts" associated with those sensations.

In a panic attack, a dozen sensations and scary thoughts all race through at once, and the experience is one of feeling overwhelmed.  In the MAP program, by slowing down the panic response, you are able to tease out and resolve each element, one at a time.  It's like inoculating yourself against panic.

As the panic monster keeps repeating his act in slow motion, you begin to see him with a new clarity.  You start to see that what looked like a very convincing panic monster is really a dozen dwarfs all dressed up in one big monster costume.  You learn to unmask, understand and even befriend each of these dwarfs, one at a time.

As you work on the dwarfs, the panic monster starts to become less scary.  And do you know what happens?  The panic attacks themselves become less frightening.  Pretty soon, you don't care as much whether or not you have one.  As you befriend each of the dwarfs, it occurs to you to put out the "welcome mat" for the panic monster.  You find that the more you invite him in, the less he comes to visit.

Today, my panic monster is pretty much a pussycat.  He's not exactly a pet, but he's welcome to visit anytime.

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Recent studies dramatically demonstrate the effectiveness of MAP.  In several studies of  cognitive-behavioral therapy using MAP or a similar approach, over 80% of clients with panic disorder became panic-free, with these outcomes being maintained after therapy and without medication.  (Zuercher-White, E. (1997). Treating Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia, 42-43)

In my opinion, Dr. Barlow, Dr. Craske and their colleagues have discovered the "keys" that unlock the panic response.  MAP is like a course that teaches us their discoveries.  

"Mastery of Your Anxiety and Panic: Workbook" by Barlow and Craske is in my opinion the best material in print about how to overcome panic disorder and agoraphobia.  It is used by many therapists around the world.

The Workbook is designed to be used with a CBT therapist, but it can also be used for self-help.  You can order from the publisher, Oxford University Press, through their website:  http://www.us.oup.com/us/companion.websites/0195311353/?view=usa or by calling 1-800-445-9714. 

If you order from Amazon.com, be sure that you get the Workbook (not the Therapist Guide) and that you get the latest edition, published in 2006.

In achieving my cure, it was essential for me to work with a therapist trained in this approach.  Dr. Barlow maintains an excellent referral list.  For a referral in your area, you can call Dr. Barlow's office at (617) 353-9610 or email his nurse administrator, Ms. Bonnie Brown, at bonnieb@bu.edu.  

Dr. Barlow also offers a one-week intensive program at his clinic in Boston.   


Mastering Panic:  A Powerful Cognitive-Behavioral Approach


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