By age 7, getting Tzviel out of the car in the morning wasn't possible. His parents would reassure him, coax him and do everything they could. One morning, while parked right outside the school building, during an anxiety attack, Tzviel said, "I want to help myself! How? How do I make my anxiety better?" This smart boy had asked the smartest question. His family turned to his art therapist and family doctor who both highly recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
In one of the first few sessions of CBT, Tzviel's therapist took a coke bottle and explained to Tzviel and his parents that the coke bottle was Tzviel. She started to shake it. "This is what happens when we start to feel bad inside. Afraid, scared, anxious. Tzviel, can you guess what is going to happen if I keep shaking it?" With a devilish smile and twinkle in his eye, Tzviel answered, "It will explode!" With that, Tzviel and his family went outside to the garden. Tzviel's therapist explained, "Tzviel, you've been feeling so scared and it's making you feel really bad inside. All that emotion has no where to go." She kept shaking the bottle. "Without slowly releasing the air from this bottle, you know what will happen. It's the same thing with you." With that, she opened the bottle and everyone watched coke spray everywhere.
She took a second coke bottle and started shaking it vigorously. "When our anxiety builds up and up, it feels terrible. I'd like to teach you ways to help your anxiety, so it doesn't explode. I'd like to teach you tools or techniques, so you can start feeling better." With that, she slowly opened the cap of the bottle. Some air came out. She did this a few times. "You see, Tzviel. No explosion."
Tzviel went for a few sessions, where his therapist would give him and his family exercises and techniques to learn. As well, she would ask questions and purposefully trigger anxious responses in Tzviel to get a good grasp for his anxiety. For many sessions after that, just Tzviel's parents went for the sessions. It was clear that Tzviel's separation anxiety had now expanded to a more broad anxiety disorder.
With cognitive behavior therapy, Tzviel's whole family learned how to communicate more effectively, to assess the situation, and learned how to diffuse situations very effectively. Tzviel felt much calmer, knowing that his parents understood his triggers. He felt safe when they knew how to reassure him. He started to feel really good.
(To be continued)