Exposure therapy

What is Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is a procedure in behavior therapy that is used to help someone with anxiety illnesses. It includes the exposure for patients to their anxiety sources without any harm to them. This may help the patient to overcome stress and anxiety.

The avoidance might help reduce feelings for a short period, but over time it might create a problem. In such a case psychologists recommend exposure therapy, where they create a “safe” environment and expose the individuals to the objects they fear and avoid. This helps in reducing the fear-avoidance for the objects. 

This therapy is scientifically proved to be useful for treating a range of problems such as:

  • Phobia

Exposure therapy is also known to be very successful in the treatment of different types of phobias. Several studies including one-to-three-hour study sessions on imaginative therapy and phobias showed its success rate. 90% of the people experienced less fear for their phobias, and about 65% showed no symptoms of fear. Agoraphobia, the fear of assuming one’s environment is not safe, has been known to be cured by exposure therapy.

  • Panic disorder 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is also known for the treatment of panic disorders. CBT involves changing the negative thoughts that worsen the emotional, mental struggles and contribute to panic attacks. Panic disorder means a person can experience unexpected panic attacks. People who have this disorder live in the fear of a panic attack. Panic disorder is caused by a variety of symptoms:

  1. Major stress at work or in the family
  2. A history of sexual assault
  3. The family has a history of panic attacks (Genes)
  • Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety disorder causes extreme fear and anxiety in social surroundings. People with this disorder have fear of meeting new people and are always scared of being judged or scrutinized. Social anxiety disorder can affect someone’s ability to:

  1. Work
  2. Attending school
  3. Attending family gatherings
  4. Forming close relations with people
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a mental disorder that can cause unwanted thinking and feelings to do something irrelevant. OCD isn’t about biting nails or getting negative thoughts. OCD symptoms are:

  1. Worries about yourself or people getting hurt
  2. Constant blinking
  3. A suspicion that your partner is unfaithful
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

This disorder usually happens with people who have witnessed a traumatic event like, riots, war, terrorist attacks, death, etc. PTSD has been known by many names, like “shell shock” during World War1, and “combat fatigue” after World War2. PTSD symptoms include:

  1. Intrusion: Intrusive thoughts may include repeated, involuntary memories, distressing dreams, flashbacks of the traumatic event.
  2. Avoidance: Avoidance includes avoiding people, places, situations, or any object which may trigger depressing memories.
  3. Alterations in arousal and reactivity: Arousal and reactive signs can include being short-tempered, and anger eruptions, acting irresponsibly, or in a dysregulated way.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder

This disorder is characterized by persistent worry about several things. People with this disorder may keep worrying about money, family, health. Individuals suffering from GAD find it difficult to control their worries. GAD includes the following symptoms:

  1. Feeling nervous, irritable, or on the edge
  2. Breathing rapidly
  3. Feeling weak or tired

Benefits of Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy has multiple benefits and can help several patients suffering from mental health conditions, like anxiety and phobias. Exposure therapy involves administering it in certain ways:

  • Graded Exposure
    This method of exposure involves setting up a hierarchy of steps from least-eared stimuli to most feared stimuli. This therapy is preferred as it helps to plan a course of the treatment plan.
  • Flooding
    Flooding psychology is based on the method that managing feelings and revisiting distressing thoughts can help a person to heal. The process involves the patient revisiting traumas in sessions so that the therapist can help him/her navigate through them. Flooding may seem like a risky process but it is known to have the highest results.
  • Systematic Desensitization
    This method involves increasing the tolerance of the person concerning the distressing levels.
  • Prolonged Exposure
    Prolonged exposure is the gradual exposure to feared stimuli, first by imaginary techniques and then in vivo exposure. Prolonged exposure has helped people to work through their fears systematically and gradually.
  • Exposure and Response Prevention
    This method helps people to reconnect with their sense of control around a feared situation by controlling the impulse to respond. It helps people suffering from OCD, as it teaches them to maintain control over their fears in the face of distress.

Risks involved with Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is a low-risk treatment modality. The benefit of exposure therapy is, the planned nature allows both the patent and the therapist to be prepared for each step of the treatment. Coping mechanisms and grounding techniques play key major roles in this treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Ques. How long does exposure therapy take?
Ans. Exposure therapy works relatively, within a few weeks to few months. A full course treatment takes 5 to 20 sessions. The time is also decided by how fast the client decides to move through the process.

Ques. Sometimes people don’t know what triggers their anxiety, how to deal with it?
Ans. Anxiety is always triggered for some reason; however, it is difficult to identify, hence it may seem that anxiety comes out of nowhere. However, doctors use their experience with anxiety clients to try and identify the trigger

Ques. Is exposure therapy harmful?
Ans. Exposure therapy is not harmful but, it can be increasingly difficult for the patient, as the patient has to go through all his/her suffering again. However, it is fruitful as the result is to help the patient deal with anxiety

Ques. What is the success rate for exposure therapy?
Ans. Exposure therapy can be an effective way to deal with anxiety disorders. Studies show, about 60-90% of the patients have mild or no symptoms after the completion of the treatment

Ques. What are few specific techniques used in this therapy?
Ans. Some of the few techniques that are used in exposure therapy are:

  • Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)
  • Systematic Desensitization
  • Prolonged Exposure
  • Graded Exposure
  • Flooding

Ques. What are few supplemental techniques used in this therapy?
Ans. Medication and Cognitive Restructuring are some of the supplemental techniques.

Ques. What is the main goal of this therapy?
Ans. The main goal of exposure therapy is to help in the reduction of fearful reactions to the impetus.

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