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How a Health Anxiety Therapist Can HELP WITH YOUR HEALTH CONCERNS: Los Angeles CA

A therapist who works with health anxiety offers personalized support to lessen your fears and concerns around your health and medical care, helping you start to sort through the anxious, rational, and irrational thoughts we all have. I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a decade of experience helping people work through and understand anxiety of all kinds.

Oliver Drakeford Therapy is located at 8702 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069

Key Takeaways

  • Health anxiety, encompassing Illness Anxiety Disorder and Somatic Symptom Disorder, causes excessive worry about health and suspected symptoms of illness.

  • A counselor conducts assessments, provides tailored services and treatments, and works with patients to develop coping strategies, manage health anxiety-related fears, and reduce anxiety-triggered behaviors.

  • Effective health anxiety treatment, including CBT and mindfulness, not only reduces excessive healthcare visits but also improves daily life, workplace productivity, and relationships by mitigating health anxiety and stress.

Understanding Health Anxiety: Illness Anxiety Disorders

Health anxiety, previously known as hypochondria, is now recognized by medical professionals as an umbrella term for two distinct mental disorders: Illness Anxiety Disorder and Somatic Symptom Disorder. Both disorders are characterized by excessive worry about health status, but they manifest in different ways. People’s health anxiety disorder, also known as Illness Anxiety Disorder, typically involves significant fear and concern about having a serious illness, often without any substantial physical symptoms.

On the other hand, SSD is characterized by excessive preoccupation with physical symptoms, such as pain or fatigue, that can't be explained by a serious disease or diagnosis, which causes a great deal of personal distress. It can be mistaken for obsessive-compulsive disorder but may lack rituals or behaviors that OCD infers.

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Illness Anxiety Disorder

Illness Anxiety Disorder, sometimes related to generalized anxiety disorder, is characterized by:

  • Extreme worry about having or acquiring a severe illness, despite having no diagnosed medical condition

  • The fear of falling ill is so intense that individuals may misinterpret normal body sensations or minor symptoms as signs of a serious disease

  • This fear can lead to frequent medical appointments and constant body monitoring in search of reassurance.

The risk factors for Illness Anxiety Disorder are varied, encompassing personal history, inherent personality traits, and even excessive health-related internet usage. These factors don’t necessarily cause the disorder, but they certainly play a role in its progression.

Somatic Symptom Disorder or Serious Illness

SSD is less of a concern about an illness but a felt experience, like pain or fatigue, without a diagnosed serious medical problem or condition, causing major emotional distress and problems functioning. The physical sensations can be specific or general and can vary in intensity from mild to severe and are known as MUS Medically Unexplained Symptoms

Individuals suffering from SSD or health anxiety may interpret normal physical sensations or minor symptoms as severe illnesses and often worry excessively about potential illnesses despite medical evidence to the contrary. It is the excessive worry and preoccupation with the physical symptoms causing significant distress that differentiates SSD from other medical conditions

The Role of A Therapist In Treating Health Anxiety.

For people with health anxiety, navigating health anxieties in the world can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it alone. An anxiety therapist can be an invaluable ally on your journey towards overcoming health anxiety and managing associated anxiety or panic attacks


A skilled therapist develops a therapeutic plan tailored to your unique needs, providing the right tools and coping skills to break the cycle of health anxiety. This treatment includes educating you about the disorder and how it manifests in your life and some education around health anxiety disorder, bodily sensations and feelings, anxiety, and an understanding of your earliest experiences of anxiety.

In addition to working closely with you, a therapist also values the involvement of significant others, family members, and doctors in the therapeutic process. Educating your loved ones about how to support you best can help you face feelings of isolation and fears of being misunderstood.

Assessing Your Situation

A crucial first step for people with health anxiety in the therapeutic process is accurately assessing your situation and understanding any physical symptoms to differentiate from a health anxiety disorder.


This involves understanding your concerns about serious illnesses, how much time you spend worrying about your health if you're constantly checking for illness, and your reactions to medical reassurances. To accomplish this, your doctor or a mental health professional may use various tools such as questionnaires, interviews, and a thorough review of your medical records. However, this process might require overcoming resistance to the possibility that your symptoms have a psychological foundation.

Providing Personalized Treatment

Once your situation is accurately assessed, a therapist tailors a treatment approach to meet your specific needs. This personalized treatment may include various therapeutic modalities such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), mindfulness meditation, and possibly medication, chosen by a medical professional who will provide a medical examination to rule out a medical condition.

The consultation process plays a crucial role in this personalization for CBT therapists. It allows you to express your specific concerns and establish treatment goals, ensuring a therapeutic match between your needs and the therapist’s methods. This process ensures that you receive the most beneficial treatment possible.

How Therapy Help

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) To Overcome Health Anxiety

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the primary treatment methods for health anxiety disorder. CBT is the first-line psychological treatment for health anxiety, focusing on helping you recognize and reframe false or distorted beliefs that lead to excessive worry. CBT strategies for health anxiety include:

  • Identifying and understanding false beliefs vs normal bodily sensations.

  • Reducing the overestimation of diseases and health concerns.

  • Limiting checking or safety behaviors or medical appointments that offer external reassurance

Benefits OF CBT

The benefits of cognitive behavior therapy for health anxiety are manifold:

  • Long-term effectiveness

  • Relatively short treatment duration

  • Success in enabling you to address your worries regarding health status and potential medical conditions.

Identifying and Challenging Negative Thoughts

One key cognitive behavior therapy technique involves identifying and challenging negative thought patterns. This method helps you silence health anxiety and change thought patterns to be healthier and more rooted in reality. Techniques like cognitive restructuring or reframing and guided discovery aid in examining and modifying negative thought patterns, such as overgeneralization or catastrophic thinking, by challenging and expanding your viewpoints.

Through CBT, you learn to reinterpret fears, worries, and beliefs about having a serious medical disease by finding alternate ways to view body sensations, which are often mistaken for symptoms of illness. Moreover, CBT for health anxiety may also involve education about the body and diseases to understand how behaviors like excessive checking, avoidance, and medical reassurance and seeking are counterproductive.

Developing Coping Strategies

CBT doesn’t just challenge negative thoughts; it helps you develop effective coping strategies. Techniques such as journaling and thought records encourage you to note down and reframe negative thoughts, while behavioral experiments help you confront and reassess the likelihood of catastrophic health outcomes.

Moreover, CBT emphasizes the acceptance of uncertainty in health, training you to recognize and tolerate the inherent risks of various health risks and concerns. This acceptance is a cornerstone in coping more realistically with health anxiety-provoking situations.


Alternative Approaches To Treating Health Anxiety


While CBT is a primary treatment modality for health anxiety, there are additional therapeutic approaches that can complement it. These include Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Exposure Therapy, and pharmacological options like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). ACT focuses on accepting rather than eliminating distressing thoughts and feelings and can be a great complement to CBT in treating health anxiety.

Each of these additional treatment methods, and even medication options, can be customized to match your specific experiences and symptoms.

Exposure Therapy

This technique can be used alongside cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and can be an effective approach to managing health anxiety. It helps you to gain gradual control over your fears by introducing them to you slowly and at your own pace until you feel less fear, are no longer suffering from health anxiety, and are less reliant on medical reassurance.

This type of therapy systematically confronts fears, assists in facing physiological sensations or symptoms without relying on safety behaviors or avoidance tactics, and teaches through direct experience that physiological symptoms are not necessarily indicative of a serious medical problem or illness and that you do not need to engage in safety behaviors to manage your anxiety.

Mindfulness Techniques

Mindfulness and relaxation techniques, taught in therapy, can also be used to manage stress and anxiety, promoting a more balanced and healthy emotional state. Learning stress management and relaxation methods, like:

  • progressive muscle relaxation

  • deep breathing exercises

  • guided imagery

  • meditation

Practicing relaxation techniques can help reduce anxiety symptoms for those with illness anxiety disorder, as well as alleviate panic attacks.

In addition to individual benefits, participants in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) programs for health anxiety report finding the group format beneficial for normalizing their experiences and providing a supportive learning environment while also lowering anxiety symptoms.

New Approaches to Health Anxiety Therapy: IMAGERY RESCRIPTING 

Anxiety disorders often involve recurring, distressing images that can be profoundly intrusive. Individuals with health anxiety (HA) might see themselves becoming seriously ill, while those with social anxiety may envision being ridiculed in public. Agoraphobia sufferers often imagine being frozen and surrounded by an intimidating crowd. These vivid, anxiety-inducing images are a common thread linking various anxiety disorders.


The concept of Imagery Rescripting is grounded in understanding how current 'catastrophic' images in patients' minds are often perceptions of the present, influenced by distorted meanings from early adverse memories. These images are seen as an 'abstracted essence' of these memories. A new approach to treatment focuses on revisiting and transforming these early memories to foster less distorted meanings.

Specific to health anxiety, there's evidence suggesting that health-related intrusive images, even those hypothetical in nature, might be linked to early fearful experiences. This link opens the possibility for IR as a treatment method. However, research on IR for health anxiety is still in its nascent stages, and our study is among the first to investigate this area.


My office is located in the heart of West Hollywood on Santa Monica Blvd and La Cienega. I work with people from all over Los Angeles in person and offer online therapy to anyone living in California.

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