What is Exposure Therapy?

Exposure therapy may be helpful for patients who suffer from panic attacks.
Exposure therapy can help people deal with tough emotions.
Exposure is used to treat phobias, such as a fear of heights.
A therapist may help a patient through a traumatic situation during exposure therapy.
Exposure therapy aims to reduce the anxiety of a situation by exposing people to the situation for a certain period of time.
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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2014
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Exposure therapy is a type of behavior therapy in which the patient confronts a feared situation, object, thought, or memory. Sometimes, this involves reliving a traumatic experience in a controlled, therapeutic environment. The goal of this therapy is to reduce the distress, physical or emotional, felt in certain situations. It may be used in dealing with anxiety, phobias, and post-traumatic stress.

During exposure therapy treatment, a therapist helps the patient remember a disturbing thought, traumatic situation, or feared object. The therapist also helps the patient deal with the unpleasant emotions or physical symptoms that may arise from this exposure. Through confronting the situations and thoughts that cause stress, patients are often able to learn coping skills, eventually reducing or even eliminating symptoms.

Patients are usually encouraged to talk about their feelings during therapy and to learn ways to face fears and stressful emotions. They are also encouraged to learn new ways of viewing fears and distressing situations. Hypnosis is sometimes used as part of this type of therapy. Even virtual reality techniques are used at times.

Sometimes, relaxation techniques are taught as part of exposure therapy. These techniques may be very helpful in dealing with both physical and emotional distress. They are intended to help the patient maintain control, even when faced with the situation, object, or thought that causes fear or distress. Often, breathing exercises are taught in conjunction with the therapy.

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Exposure therapy is sometimes compared to desensitization. Unlike desensitization, however, this practice produces anxiety in the patient on purpose. Desensitization, on the other hand, combines relaxation with gradual introduction to the anxiety-producing object, thought, or situation. Furthermore, exposure therapy involves exposing the patient to the most distressing thought or situation first, while systematic desensitization begins with that which causes the least fear.

Exposure therapy may include flooding or graduated techniques. When flooding techniques are used, the patient may be exposed to the frightening or distressing thought, situation, or object for as much as two hours at a time. Graduated techniques are considered gentler because the patient may face the distressing stimuli in shorter chunks of time and have more control over the duration of the exposure.

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Discuss this Article

anon349584
Post 16

No one should be treated for these things when they have no real life support! Based on mere assumptions gleaned from very limited knowledge, this is extremely counter productive, and harmful to many. It isn't surprising that suicides are escalating.

Many cannot easily talk on the phone or with strange people online. No one has the right to play God with people's lives simply because they have a higher education.

anon133790
Post 15

I am a thirty-something female suffering a disorder, of which i cannot name, and it has been a part of my life as long as i remember. The sound of people chewing and swallowing, breathing loud and gum chewing, strikes fear in me.

I am constantly terrified to be in class, because someone might chew gum. I am scared of movies, because of the popcorn. I have to beg my boyfriend not to get popcorn (which he loves) and tries not to show it, but is confused and angry that i feel so strongly about it.

When i was ten, my mother was chewing an apple, totally normal, and the sound made me so irate i grabbed it from her and threw it out the window. I have lost friends over this, and am in a basically constant threat of anxiety, fear, and shame. I have tried treatment with benzos (Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan...) however, I am a recovering addict and cannot take these medications.

Any thoughts would be so welcome. Thank you.

anon115416
Post 14

Thanks for this. I had some trama in my life years ago and am trying to get a professional to try this. Thanks especially to Annon105827, as - if you interpreted it correctly - that would indeed be a very harmful for me to look up currently.

anon105827
Post 13

I sincerely recommend that anyone diagnosed with PTSD not review the process of Byron Katie without the full support and guidance of a licensed counselor. Her work contains suggestions that survivors of trauma consider the possibility that they caused and/or gained something from their traumatic experiences, which can be highly destructive to individuals in a state of crisis.

I personally was triggered by videos of Byron Katie I saw online (after reading these comments) that suggested that victims of torture "choose" to give in to the demands of their tormentors and that their tormentors have no culpability for their actions.

A quick review of online resources reveals that BK has no license or training as a therapeutic provider. While I found her process of self-inquiry generally helpful in questioning negative thoughts, I also found the material to have a shallow and potentially damaging effect for those who have survived trauma, particular child abuse and neglect.

anon98524
Post 12

the article on exposure therapy is very informative and easy to understand. well done.

anon65877
Post 10

I am doing EMDR and they are going to start me on Exposure Therapy. What can it hurt? I am a 36 year old mother of three and grandma to one and I cannot even walk up my stinking stairs without freaking out that something is going to get me.

If this can help me climb those stairs without all that fear, then it is worth trying. Doing nothing is the worst thing I can think of. Wish me luck!

anon64889
Post 9

@anon18733: Exposure therapy is not used for phobias. You need systematic desensitization for those. For a phobia, you would be flooding, which, can actually reinforce the fear response.

Acor
Post 7

There is a technique called EFT, helps with everything from anxiety to compulsive eating. It is easy and you can do it yourself once you know the basics. I recommend to go online and get information on EFT, it really helps.

anon18733
Post 6

I think exposure therapy is ridiculous! I mean, I am an emetophobic... and I recently threw up. That did not help AT ALL, it only made it worse, and I seriously think I've lost like... twenty pounds, because I hardly eat anything or drink anything. :<

anon11360
Post 5

Hope this note finds the editors well! Just want to tell you I think this is a very special website!

Your site directed me to Byron Katie; which in turn helped me help my son, who suffers from severe anxiety and PTSD due to his experiences at public school. Two words, thank you, but it just isn't enough to express my gratitude! I will pick a charity and donate to it in your honor. Thanks again.

suzieqheart
Post 4

Both of you would benefit from "The Work of Byron Katie". She's easy to find on the web and all you need to get started is there for free! There are trained people who will facilitate you for free on the "Hotline" of The Works website.

fenimore206: with The Work you examine one of your thoughts at a time. The process is so easy, not at all like talk therapy! I bet one of the video clips on the website will directly address one of the issues that has you stuck!

zafariqbal: read about Katie's life before she found The Work...she was a basket case! The Work will help you right away...no matter how many problems you have.

Peace to both of you!

zafariqbal
Post 3

i have problem of panic and anxiety due to this there are problems everwhere in my life.

and due to this i cannot sit a place with calm

pls tell me how should i fight the problem in my life.

fenimore206
Post 1

What if you can't talk about it? No matter what, no matter how hard you try the words just won't come.

Moderator's reply: Sounds like you're in a really really tough spot. Hopefully one of our users can help you, but in the mean time it would probably be wise to seek professional help.

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