What our patients have to say...
I would like to share my experience with PARC, the Improv for Anxiety program, Mark Pfeffer, Becca Barish and Jake Frelick.
In September of 2013 I decided that I needed help to deal with stage fright. One particular instance where I had an intense bout of stage fright precipitated my decision. I felt that being anxious when speaking in public was holding me back. At the time I was 38 years old. I had similar instances of stage fright when I was in the university in Argentina and here in the States, but at that point in my life I decided that I didn’t want to be a person that hid his problems “under the rug”.
...It is important to note that there aren’t many professionals in the area of anxiety that really have experience treating patients successfully. At least in my experience, I did consult with other psychologists and honestly I found that some were not used to treating stage fright and social anxiety specifically and I didn’t really feel understood.
Read more here.
I had my first anxiety attack when I was at work. It came out of nowhere. I had the rapid heartbeat, sweating, feeling of unreality, racing thoughts…I thought I was having a heart attack. Not wanting to cause a scene, I told my boss I wasn’t feeling well and left the office. It got worse as I drove home. Scared and not sure what was happening, I went to the emergency room. After numerous checks and tests turned out fine, the doctor told me I had a panic attack. I left feeling unsure of this diagnosis and “…what do I do?” After suffering from additional panic and anxiety attacks, I needed help. I felt that my world was spiraling out of control. I thought I was going crazy because I could not control and/or prevent me from having another episode. “How would I be able to live my life like this?” I needed help.
When I first met Mark, he provided a very calm and relaxed atmosphere in our session. I had never been to “therapy” and/or seen a “professional” so I didn’t know what to expect. Well, the only thing I pictured was lying on a couch as I unloaded my thoughts to a therapist and/or “shrink” as what was depicted in the movies. My sessions with Mark were like going to meet up with a friend and just catch up on life, talk about what was going on with me, talking about the “good” and the “bad”. It was just like that. It was that comfortable. I continued “one-on-one” sessions with Mark and also participated in the group sessions. The groups were good by listening and speaking to others going through the same struggles and how to overcome them. Learning from Mark, he gave me the power to control my thoughts, redirect my thinking, and “fight” against any uncomfortable thoughts by “welcoming” them into my head by not letting them control me.
Through Mark’s guidance, I don’t let my anxiety control my life anymore. I don’t worry about “…what if I have an attack?” I live my life. If there are any unexpected anxiety or panic that comes into my head – I put out the “Welcome” sign, but I continue to live and just tell those feelings to turn off the light when they are done…I’ve got better things to do.
Mark, here's the letter I promised awhile back.
I joined Improv for Anxiety because of my paralyzing fear of public speaking or really any situation where I was the center of attention. I could be in a room full of 5 or 50 people and still experience the same level of fear. I was usually ok if I could speak first but if the situation called for me to wait then all bets were off. This anxiety had controlled my life for so long I finally decided I needed to do something about it which led me to Mark and this program. Now that I have gone through levels A and B I can easily say it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Want to know why?
Read more here.
While it may be a bit out of the ordinary for you to receive a letter from the mother of a client, I feel compelled to write. Through your facilitation, the work that Danny has done has accomplished what he was never able to before. Danny is now taking “risks” in his life that are ultimately opening many doors for him and providing him with a sense of direction that was not even possible prior to now. His elation after each accomplishment is now overriding his anxiety. I know you know how huge this is. Danny has always been driven and passionate about his endeavors but was bounded by his self-imposed limitations. This is no longer the case. I am so proud of him (what a mom thing to say, :)). So thank you. You must know the impact you have on these people’s lives and consequently, the lives that they touch."
My name is Danny and I have struggled with generalized and social anxiety for as long as I can remember. Some of the earliest memories I have, in fact, are of being anxious. Even as a young kid I was petrified by minor social interactions; ordering food at a restaurant (I'd have a family member order for me), speaking to other kids at school, even at family functions I would avoid interaction as much as possible. As I got older the effect it had on my academic life grew more and more serious, particularly in college. I began skipping classes due to the severe anxiety I felt being in a classroom surrounded by peers. I failed several classes, not due to an inability to grasp the material, but because I was simply too terrified to be involved or show up. My social life suffered equally. Click here to read more.
See Danny's Improv/PARC video testimonial.
Ready for this??!!! In the past few months, I've reached a whole new level: I gave a very funny and well-received toast/roast at my best friend's wedding, I've been a teaching assistant in a course here which entails leading a 1.5 hour discussion section with 25 students every week, and best of all, I've gone through multiple rounds of interviews at all the schools I've applied to for my PhD. I was accepted at Columbia, Yale, Brown, and Johns Hopkins, and have decided to stay at Yale. I have four presentations coming up in the next two months (including one tomorrow) and I feel little to no anxiety about them.
I tear up just looking at that paragraph and remembering where I was. Those things were all at the very top of my hierarchy and now they're becoming second nature. THANK YOU SO MUCH for everything. - Peter
I want to briefly share that I have gained from my experiences with the PARC/Improv Level A and B classes. Public speaking has been a personal challenge of mine for as long as I can remember, and PARC/Improv became a valuable forum to address this challenge.
Probably just as valuable to me was developing relationships with class members who shared my similar challenges. I believe that people can develop a bond through adversity and challenges, whether personal or professional. Additionally, I developed tremendous respect for every class member, because each one was gifted with so much individual talent and fortitude.
"This summer I was able to take my first vacation in many years. The program not only worked to control my panic attacks, but now I'm doing things I never dreamed I could! Thank you for your immediate understanding of what I was going through, and keeping me on track when it was hard to focus on the program. I look forward to speaking to a new group one day." - Jennifer
"After years of surfing the medical community for appropriate treatment for my social anxiety, I consider myself lucky to have seen you and a former client on an ABC TV show. The courage and determination of your client inspired me to give it a shot. The skills I learned—especially the ones that helped me change the way I think—were exactly what I needed. I still have anxiety in certain work and social situations, but I do it anyway and then it passes. I once thought my condition would force me to change or lose my job. I was recently promoted! I can't thank you enough." - Mark
"Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
Understanding and accepting the phobia that I feel driving in the highways has helped me to reduce my anxiety level when I am actually driving. Suddenly, and I don't know why, I am able to drive again, driving in places where I wouldn't think I was going to be able to drive again like taken the expressway or driving in the highway where everything started 8 or 9 years ago.
Now I understand and I accept that I will have this condition all my life and I don't feel guilty about it anymore. Now I am able to speak about it with my family and friends in a natural way, because finally I understood that I don't have to be ashamed about it.
Last week I was in Spain for holidays and I decided trying to drive on the highway that terrorized me most and the one that I have been avoiding for the last years even though is the only way I can drive from home to Madrid. I felt so happy to be able to drive there. But I even felt better the next day when I realized that I was driving there again and that the day before was not just luck!
I am moving to England in a few weeks. I really want to comeback to Europe, but at the same time I feel a little bit sad. I have been really happy here in Chicago. I liked that your office was near home so I could call you if needed. Now it will not be so easy! But with the exercises you taught me, my favorite was visualization, I believe I will be able to manage if a crisis comes but...if you have a phone call from abroad please, answer the phone!
I really want to thank you for all your work an all your encouraging words you have told me in the last months. You know, I didn’t believe too much in psychologists but I learned that is not good to have prejudices and I hope to remember that for all the aspects in my life.
Again, thanks a lot. You have really helped me. It’s been a pleasure meeting you and I hope we can keep in touch.
If you go to Spain or London don't forget to call me!
I am not afraid anymore and the FEELING IS GREAT!!!" - Ana
"Just a note to thank you for your care, concern and diligent efforts to empower our son to conquer his anxiety. He's not totally 'there' yet, but with your help he has learned how to help himself and has developed the tools to get through his upcoming challenges at school. It has been a pleasure getting to know you and we appreciate your personal interest in helping him. He never felt like just another client. Thanks so much." - Kim
"I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles this June. I never would have been able to make that decision without your help with the elevator thing. My employer needed someone to temporarily work out of our LA office and I volunteered to go, no longer having to think about how many unfamiliar elevators I'd have to ride. When I arrived, I was staying at this Holiday Inn with a tiny, old, elevator that moved very slowly and inconsistently. (Unfortunately I still notice those things.) As I got in, I giggled to myself, thinking that a few months ago, I never would have been able to do this. I can't say I liked it, but it didn't stop me from doing what I wanted to do.
"After two months, I transferred to the LA office. I work on the 33rd floor, which is also at the top of the elevator bank, which means a lot of stopping on other floors before reaching mine. But I'm ok with that and rarely even think about it. I leave for lunch almost every day and have no anxiety about additional elevator trips for coffee breaks mid-day. I live in West Hollywood on the 4th floor, so I don't need to take an elevator, but I typically do. I never thought I'd be at the point where I chose to take the elevator when I had a reasonable option of taking the stairs. Occasionally I freak out and take the stairs, but not very often and even then, I make myself get back on the elevator soon so I don't forget that there's really nothing to be afraid of.
"Today our floor at work was evacuated and we couldn't take the elevator. I was frightened in the stairwells as we walked down, but then I reminded myself to think what you taught me: Compare what was really happening to what I feared was going to happen. It helped me calm down. Following the evacuation, I talked to a co-worker in the bathroom and she mentioned her elevator phobia. I told her how I didn't think mine could be helped either, but that you helped me get over it and that I feel so much better now, not having avoidance of elevators control my life. She was so happy to know that these things can be cured and looks forward to moving past her phobia.
"I'm sorry it took so long to write, but you have really improved my quality of life and I'm grateful." - Hayley
"Prior to participating in the Panic/Anxiety/Recovery Center program, I felt like a helpless, out-of-control basket case. I longed for peace and serenity, yet felt it was way out of my reach. Fortunately, all of that changed. I found peace, serenity, and got my life back. My life is no longer consumed by the fear of panic attacks. I rarely have a panic attack now, and while I think of them as uncomfortable and certainly don't want to have one, I have confidence in my ability to cope with them. For the most part, I can do what I want in life—not what panic and anxiety disorder limit me to." - Ann
"It's a known fact that the majority of people do not enjoy public speaking. I was beyond that; the thought of being called upon during class made me so uncomfortable. I hated going to school, and loved test days because I would not get called on! I experienced sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, a trembling voice and shortness of breath.
"I would not go to high school feeling this way. I got up the courage to tell my mom how I was feeling in school. She started calling local high schools, and found they were not able to help. One day, she was looking in the newspaper, and found an ad for Panic/Anxiety/Recovery Center. She called the number and we found Mr. Pfeffer, the man who changed my life forever.
"I met him weekly for an hour. Each week, I would tell him of my fears and accomplishments of the previous week. He would give me worksheets and material to read, and homework. I also kept a daily journal of my attempts at overcoming my fears. I had to put myself in those uncomfortable situations and work the program. Now, when I feel anxious about an event coming up at school, I can look back at my old journal entries, and remember all of my successes.
"I encourage anyone who has this crippling fear of public interaction to meet with Mr. Pfeffer, and give his program a try. I am now a junior, and have been enjoying high school because of Mark. I can be called upon to read aloud, and have given many speeches with little anxiety. I learned how to control my breathing, relax, and to 'run towards the roar!' Instead of waking up each morning and worrying about my classes, I can get on with more important things in life. Thanks, Mr. Pfeffer." - Gail
"Understanding and accepting the phobia that I feel driving on the highways has helped me to reduce my anxiety level when I am actually driving. Suddenly, and I don't know why, I am able to drive again, driving in places where I wouldn't think I was going to be able to drive again, like taking the expressway or driving on the highway where everything started eight or nine years ago.
"Now I understand and accept that I will have this condition all my life and I don't feel guilty about it anymore. Now I am able to speak about it with my family and friends in a natural way because finally I understood that I don't have to be ashamed about it.
"I really want to thank you for all your work and all the encouraging words you have told me in the last months. You know, I didn't believe too much in psychologists. But I learned that it is not good to have prejudices and I hope to remember that for all aspects of my life. You have really helped me. I know this phobia thing will always be there, but I am not afraid of it anymore and the feeling is great!" - Carrie
"I've suffered from social anxiety, panic attacks, and agoraphobia on and off since I was a child. I had seen several psychologists specializing in anxiety disorders and while they helped a little bit, I still hadn't really learned what anxiety was and why I reacted the way I did to it. I hadn't learned to change my habitual, knee-jerk reactions to the slightest twinges of anxiety.
"When I started going through the group at Panic/Anxiety/Recovery Center I had just bought my first home and was going through a divorce. I was extremely agoraphobic, to the point where I had difficulty even doing simple things like grocery shopping. I would try to get out for a walk every day, but if I had to run any errands, I would save them all up for one day, take some Xanax and rush through them. I developed a whole new set of phobias; I couldn't have strangers in my home without severe anxiety. Then I got to the point where I couldn't even have friends in my home.
"Going through the program at PARC was not a miracle cure for me. But it was much more helpful than previous therapy sessions I'd attended, primarily because the focus was solely on learning about anxiety and learning how to handle both the physical symptoms and erroneous thinking that leads from slight anxiety to major panic attacks. I've made incredible progress due to the help I received at PARC and my life has definitely changed for the better due to the skills I've learned. I took my first vacation (and plane flight) in five years and began getting out socially and doing the things I'd wanted to do but had been too afraid to. I no longer avoid situations out of fear. Especially important was the follow-up. I've been able to have individual sessions at PARC on occasion, particularly when I have difficult situations coming up.
"Most importantly, I've learned to change my thinking about anxiety and panic to the point where it doesn't control me the way it once did. I check my breathing, accept my physical symptoms of anxiety for what they are, and 'catch' my cognitive distortions as they come up. This has made an enormous difference in how I view anxiety; it no longer has the terrifying hold over me it once did. I still have anxiety and I still have difficult times, but they are so much easier to deal with now and my anxious moments don't last as long because I have the skills to combat my habitual reactions to anxiety.
"The Panic/Anxiety/Recovery Center made an important difference in my life and I'd urge anyone with anxiety problems to go through the program, do the work, keep the journals and make the effort to show up for all the sessions. It's your choice, but if you do the work and take it seriously, this program can make a huge difference in your life." - Robert
"With the 'rat race' of a schedule most of us lead, we don't always take the time to tell those who have helped us or lend support at a difficult time in our life. I wanted to take a moment and say "Thank You" for helping me cope with my panic/anxiety that seemed very overwhelming.
"Dr. Betsy Gertz and The Panic/Anxiety 20-week program have educated and helped me to understand the physical effects and feelings that had control over me. Through breathing, relaxation exercises, record keeping and the excellent literature provided in every chapter, I feel more confident in handling my anxiety. I realize my anxiety and panic will never disappear but I can take control and manage it with the methods of coping you provided for me.
"I would be remiss if I didn't mention the support you gave me during the passing of my father and the loss of my job. I am happy to say that it was worth waiting for the right job because I am very happy. I was afraid at first to accept the position as Meeting Planner, but have decided to face it with courage and take each day as it comes. I am determined not to let this problem of mine stand in the way of a good opportunity. I have been to many therapists over the years and have never felt the results as this recent experience. You have instilled in me that I have the choices and options and that I will get through any situation." - Pam
"Before I became a client at the Panic/Anxiety/Recovery Center, my life was a mess. I had been suffering from depression, panic attacks, and episodes of agoraphobia for about a year. It was one day during a break at work that I noticed an ad in a Chicago magazine. I remember the questions in the ad: 'Do you suffer from anxiety?' 'Do you feel your heart racing rapidly?' 'Do you feel like sometimes you are going to lose control?'
"My answer to all of these questions was a resounding 'yes.' I remember when I called and talked to Mark Pfeffer, the director of PARC, for the first time. There was a feeling of relief that someone actually understood what I was going through. After months of therapists who could only tell me that I had depression and were quick to prescribe anti-depressants, I now had found a way to deal with my panic disorder. I only wish that I had known about PARC sooner; I would have saved a lot of money spent on other types of treatments.
"I remember my first group session at PARC. There was such an immediate bond because we were all suffering from the same thing. It was such a relief to know that I was not the only person who had panic disorder and that I finally could get the help I really needed. I should point out that I was never the most diligent of students in high school or college and it was a little disconcerting to know that I would be doing homework again. But honestly, this was the most important homework I've ever done in my life.
"We learned about cognitive restructuring, breathing techniques, and ways of dealing with anticipatory anxiety. We also made lists of what we hoped to accomplish through the course of the program. For me, it was being able to get on an airplane again and see a concert, both of which I had avoided for a year. I gained so much confidence through the support of my class and through Mark's guidance. It was toward the end of the program that I met my fiancée (our first date was a Bruce Springsteen concert) and a week after my last class, I got on a plane again. Thank you, PARC, for everything." - Ron
"I have suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for the past 12 years. I thought that I was going to live the rest of my life with this condition. I couldn't travel, drive at night, drink alcohol, and many other things that made my life incomplete.
"In 1998, I was getting married and I didn't want to deprive my spouse of a honeymoon. That was when I decided to call Panic/Anxiety/Recovery Center. I had known about PARC for quite some time, but I just didn't believe it would work for me. I felt I was destined to live with my panic forever. With the wedding nearing, I decided to give PARC and myself a chance to beat this thing.
"I completed the program and went on a honeymoon to Key West, Florida. Hurricane George arrived just in time for the honeymoon and we had to evacuate the island. But I survived and actually enjoyed our trip. I was amazed that the program actually worked.
"Now I finally feel confident that I can do anything and go anywhere because I truly 'ran towards the roar.' When I first heard Mark say those words I was completely skeptical. But it truly worked for me and I feel better than ever. I'm already planning my next trip and I know my life will be much fuller now. It's too tiring to drag around the worry and the fear with me everywhere I go. Now I don't have to. Much thanks to PARC and to Mark for helping me through this. If you are reading this and feel as skeptical as I did about this program, just try it. It works. You have nothing to lose." - Beth
"It's been almost one year since graduation and things are going really well. I've completed most of my hierarchy lists, with the outstanding one being travel by airplanes.
"I have been able to drive to work alone, on the expressways, and on side streets with very low levels. Even when my levels begin to rise I can quickly do deep breathing techniques and talk myself down. I can now go to the mall myself, drive to the doctor myself, eat in restaurants, go to movies, attend hockey games and not worry if it'll be crowded—do things that I never thought a year ago I'd be able to do again. I've even gone away for relaxing spa weekends—got a massage (which never in a million years could I envision doing)!
"It is truly being free. It doesn't mean the anxiety is gone—I still have bad days—only now I accept them as just that, bad days, and not the only thing in my life. I still tense up in meetings or at interviews (yes, I have been going on job interviews!) but now I understand that it is normal.
"I refer to my materials a lot—listen to my tapes for breathing, etc., and find them useful to get back on track if I've been nervous several days in a row. I look and feel better and know that while this is always going to be with me, it no longer means that it has to control my life. Oh, yeah, I now get my hair cut on a regular basis (when we met I hadn't gone for six months and in fact almost went 12 months without a haircut!). Now I can do it, though for whatever reason, that tends to raise my levels.
"I re-read my letter to myself a few weeks ago and was amazed by the change in myself. I can't tell you enough how wonderful the program was and how it has helped me change my life around! I tell everyone who notices the changes in me about the program and that it was the best thing I ever did for myself. - Terri