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The “Claire Weekes” Approach to Anxiety

Henry Vyner, MD, Psychiatrist
The “Claire Weekes” Approach to Anxiety

Therapeutic techniques are excellent. Theory is so so.

Dr. Claire Weekes, an Australian psychiatrist who lived between 1903 and 1990, had some revolutionary ideas about anxiety that are still noted today for being ahead of their time. The books she wrote on the nature of anxiety, which also included the details of the simple exercises she used to treat both her patients’ anxiety and her own, are still sold today.

This article will provide an overview of the theory and some of the exercises outlined by Dr. Claire Weekes.

Claire Weekes’ Books

The Weekes' system is one of many technologies for dealing with anxiety. Other options are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness, meditation and extinction therapy.

Dr. Claire Weekes distrusted the methods of psychoanalysis being used during her lifetime. She wanted simpler explanations for anxiety that did not involve sifting through childhood to latch onto (or in some cases, imagine or create) any event that could be blamed for the disorder. She also wanted a treatment that did not involve focusing all one’s attention on changing beliefs and feelings surrounding that event, when the event might not even have to do with the disorder.

Claire Weekes wrote 5 books over the course of her lifetime.

Her first book sold over 300,000 copies and had been translated into eight languages. Her worldwide TV and radio appearances were eventually compiled into audio and video files, which can still be accessed today.

Claire Weekes’ Approach to Anxiety

To understand Dr. Weekes approach to anxiety, it is helpful to break it down into three categories: her theory, her perspective on anxiety and her therapeutic techniques. Her theory is speculative but plausible. The strongest aspects of her work are her perspective on anxiety — accept it — and the therapeutic techniques that she developed. Her technique and perspective are wise and they work..

Dr. Weekes’ Perspective on Anxiety

The almost natural tendency that we all have in the face of anxiety, or any painful emotion for that matter is to reject it. We reject anxiety and other painful experiences by repressing them.

In essence, Dr. Weekes says that a person should do just the opposite and accept their anxiety, as opposed to fighting it off or denying it. She herself, was able to accept her own anxiety because she came to the point where she saw it as merely the functioning of her nervous system. 

She believes and teaches her patients that having anxiety is neither a flaw nor a shortcoming. There is nothing wrong with you. She teaches that accepting your anxiety is important because it opens the door to living with your anxiety. This is the foundation to Dr. Weekes approach to anxiety.

Dr. Weekes’ Theory of Anxiety

The main principle of Dr. Claire Weekes’ theory of the causes of mental illness in general, and anxiety in particular, are three factors work together to cause them. They are:

Dr. Weekes sees most mental illness, for which she uses the term nervous illness, and severe anxiety as being an exaggeration of the symptoms of stress by severe sensitization. In Dr. Weekes’ view, anxiety is caused by prolonged and severe sensitization. What, then, causes prolonged sensitization?

Dr. Weekes felt that it was not necessary to psychoanalyze yourself to figure out why some past event caused you be have anxiety. She advocated a different and more down to earth approach to anxiety.

Claire Weekes’ Strategy for Overcoming Anxiety

The crux of Dr. Weekes’ approach to anxiety is that of leaving your mind in its natural state. Her technique is based on the idea that if you leave your mind in its natural state, your anxiety or panic attacks will pass by quickly and disappear. In contrast, It’s just like a river. If you watch a leaf floating on the surface of a river, it will appear, float by you and disappear. It is the same with anxiety. Or for that matter, thoughts and emotions. 

If, in contrast, you try to resist your anxiety and panic attacks, they will persist and remain with you for long periods of time. On the basis of this understanding, there are three stages to Dr. Weekes’ approach to coping with anxiety. They are: 

Once again, the normal response to emotional pain or anxiety is to try and avoid it. You can avoid anxiety by repressing it or by avoiding the situations that trigger your anxiety.If you repress your anxiety or deny it, it will persist and you will become afraid of it.

So the thing to do with anxiety is to accept its presence in your mind and body. This does not mean that you will like the anxiety or panic attack. But it does mean that you will accept that it is happening and let it take its own natural course. This will set you up for the second step: float on the anxiety.

Another aspect of Dr. Weekes’ approach is that she recommended not avoiding the situations that trigger your anxiety and panic attacks. She suggested that you should face them and see them as opportunities to learn how to cope with and handle your panic attacks. Use them as opportunities to build up your skills and to build up your confidence that you can successfully handle your anxiety and panic attacks. In other words, don’t be afraid of your anxiety and fear. Face them gently without judging yourself.

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