High Anxiety – Case Study
Presenting issues: Jim sought psychotherapy as he was experiencing a lot of anxiety in his life. While he was used to a certain amount of anxiety, recently there were times when he felt overwhelmed, leading to feelings of panic.
Therapeutic Process: The initial counselling sessions examined Jim’s associations to his experiences of anxiety. It enabled him to define what for him was anxiety, when it appeared and what the circumstances were. He traced his first experience of anxiety to the time, when he was studying for his Leaving Cert. While he was a good student, it was expected that he would follow his father in his career choice as an engineer.
Jim enjoyed subjects like maths and the sciences but really enjoyed other subjects like English and Art. Around this time in his final year at secondary school, anxiety related to his studies, and that for the first time he conceived of the idea that he might fail to get enough points for engineering and disappoint his parents. In any event he more than achieved the necessary points and studied as expected, gaining his qualification and working now as an engineer in his chosen field which co-incidentally was also his father’s.
After the initial experience of anxiety, Jim was aware of low levels of anxiety while going through college and taking up work but he found this useful and it encouraged him to study well and work hard.
So what had changed that the levels of anxiety had upped and he felt at times a sense of panic and dread invading him?
A year ago, Jim had proposed to his girlfriend Jenny and she accepted. When the wedding plans were well underway it all seemed to have overwhelmed him – he no longer felt in charge of his life. Asked was it something in particular that overwhelmed him and not just the wedding plans, he said Jenny had become pregnant with an unplanned pregnancy and he had doubts about his ability to be a father – was he mature enough? All his friends were still living the single life and enjoying it.
Initially Jim thought that the anxiety and feelings of panic had only applied to his personal life and that his professional life was going well. On closer investigation in counselling sessions, he could identify times at work when the sense of panic was rising. He realised that when he thought of getting married, buying a house and becoming a father, he felt overwhelmed with anxiety and panic.
Jim was clear that he loved Jenny, what he was not so clear about was how he would be able to cope with taking on the role of being a father. During the psychotherapeutic process, he reflected on his relationship with his own father and how he still felt somewhat overshadowed by him – he realised that he had never completely struck out on his own. In a way, this was true for him as he allowed the parental expectations to take precedence over his own about career choices.
Counselling Outcome: As he elaborated on his thoughts and feelings about his early family life, he realised that he was not living the life he had envisaged. The psychotherapy work consisted of Jim finding a path and living in a way that was more in keeping with his desire. Through the counselling, Jim’s anxiety diminished and he began to forge a career that encompassed both his qualifications in engineering and his interest in art and literature. Marriage and fatherhood suited him.
Through psychotherapy, Jim realised that what had caused his high anxiety allowed him to think about and question his life. He said psychotherapy gave him a structured time and place in which to examine his life and his life choices. Figuring out what his unhappiness was about enabled him to make changes in his personal and work life. He embraced the very things he thought were anxiety provoking i.e. being a husband and father. Separating at a psychological level from his parents, creating his own family, loving his wife and son brought new energy and vitality to his life.