The LEAF program is for individuals suffering from mild to moderate levels of panic disorder. Participants receive training in cognitive and behavioral skills that have been demonstrated in research studies to help people effectively manage the symptoms of panic and anxiety. They are coached in these techniques by their group leaders. LEAF leaders are community volunteers and individuals with no formal mental health training but often have personal experience in successfully managing their own anxiety disorder symptoms using many of the same skills that they teach to participants. Leaders are trained by our clinicians (Psychologists/Psychiatrists) who guide and supervise them throughout the 10 weeks. In addition, an honorarium is provided to the leaders.
Participants will review basic educational information in five main areas:
- First basic educational information about the nature of panic disorder, panic attacks and anxiety symptoms.
- Second participants will be taught controlled breathing and muscle relaxation in order to manage the bodily sensations of anxiety and panic
- Third participants will be taught how to examine their thoughts and beliefs in order to identify any misconceptions that maintain the cycles of repeated panic attacks (e.g. the false belief that a panic attack can lead to death via heart attack).
- Fourth participants will learn to gradually overcome the avoidance behaviors that create substantial interference and functional disability (e.g. inability to use transportation or enter stores, etc)
- Finally, participants will learn how to maintain their gains and how to manage or prevent any relapse of their symptoms.
Although effective treatments for panic disorder have been established, few individuals who seek treatment receive those interventions, while many others do not have access to appropriate treatment resources. At the present time, evidence-based programs for panic disorder are typically only offered at specialized clinics, and are therefore not widely available in BC. To address these issues, the LEAF program was designed as an evidence-based self-management program for panic disorder.
With funding from the Ministry of Health Services, the LEAF program in BC was initially presented in 2002 in four communities: Delta, Surrey, Kamloops, and Kelowna. More recently, in 2005, Anxiety Canada offered the program in the TriCities area supported by funding from the Fraser Health Authority - TriCities and the Coquitlam Foundation. Overall, the subjective evaluations of the program remain positive. More than half of the participants find the LEAF program very helpful in managing their panic and anxiety symptoms more effectively. For example:
- "I've learned how to lower my anxiety levels...and to keep full blown panic attacks at bay"
- "I do not avoid any places or situations I would have before - even on meds"
- "Haven't been going to the doctor as much"
- "Not dependent anymore on having my husband drive me, which is a relief to both of us"
- "I had 3 very successful dental trips - even the dentist noticed!!"
- "Improved self-care because I have started to care more about other aspects of my health"
- "I feel more able to deal with my symptoms and more confident that they are not life threatening"
- "Through this program I believe I have learned the skills which will enable me to love a fuller, happier life"
- "I've learned a lot of calming thoughts and also different coping strategies"
Many people who complete a self-management program such as LEAF are able to use their new self management strategies to prevent or minimize panic attacks, some even end up completely panic free!
LEAF can help individuals who experience panic disorder. In such cases, individuals will often experience recurrent episodes of intense fears combined with a number of physical sensations that peak quickly but can take a substantial amount of time to pass. They will often fear that something catastrophic is about to happen to them, will fear future episodes of panic and may make changes in their life to prevent future panic attacks.
See our STRIDES winter 2005 issue for more information on panic disorder.
Participants will undergo a suitability assessment and screening interview to ensure that the program meets their needs. Ideally, they would have been diagnosed as suffering from mild to moderate panic disorders by a mental health professional. The screening process would explore questions like:
- Have you received a diagnosis of panic disorder?
i.e., diagnosed by a mental health professional.
- Do you experience?
A sudden rush of intense fear that comes without a warning combined with physical sensations that develop abruptly, peak very quickly and can take a substantial amount of time to go away. Symptoms may include:
- Catastrophic thoughts - something bad is about to happen
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breathe
- Palpitations, pounding heat, or accelerated heart beat
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- Feeling of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, lightheaded or faint
- Fear of losing control or dying
- Do you avoid situations or places?
Phobias that people with panic disorder develop do not come from fears of actual objects or events, but rather from fear of having another attack. In these cases, people will avoid certain objects or situations because they fear that these things will trigger another attack.
Where is the program being offered?
The LEAF program for those suffering from mild to moderate panic disorder is not being offered at this time. Anxiety Canada is reviewing the program and considering options for future development. This may include opening groups to those with other anxiety disorders, and developing "booster groups" to assist people who have already gone through a treatment program and would like to meet periodically for refreshers on anxiety management.
For those who are living in the New Westminster/Tri-Cities (Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody) area there are free anxiety programs available at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster.
Referral Process Group Therapy Services
Royal Columbian Hospital
Referrals to RCH Group Therapy Services are made through the mental health centres in our catchment area. Prior to entering one of our groups, an intake assessment is completed at one of these centres. The mental health centres in our catchment area are New Westminster Mental Health Centre (604) 777-6800 and Tri-Cities Mental Health Centre (604) 777-8400, which serve New Westminster, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody. Individuals can refer themselves to their local mental health centre for assessment or have their medical doctor or psychological counselor refer them for an intake assessment.