What is exposure therapy and is it the correct treatment for me?

Discover the Power of Exposure Therapy for OCD and PTSD: Overcome fears and anxieties with evidence-based techniques in this informative guide.

Danielle Nay
July 27, 2023

Many of my clients initially contact me for assistance after years of suffering with intense panic or fear. Whether it be fear of having additional panic attacks, fear of specific objects or situations, intense fear of engaging in social situations due to exponential panic-related thoughts or sensations, or even the resulting discomfort after experiencing multiple or a one-time traumatic event. These symptoms tend to lead to mass avoidance – avoiding once enjoyed social or work activities, no longer spending quality time with loved ones, or no longer engaging in leisure activities. Maybe you haven’t gotten to the point where you are totally avoiding important aspects of your life… you may be able to endure these symptoms with great distress while continuing to attend to once enjoyed components of your life, or possibly you attend the events until the symptoms or experience become intolerable before you escape the situation. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to fully enjoy and experience life?

At one point, this avoidance served you in some way – possibly by allowing you to avoidthe severe physiological and psychological discomfort. Sadly, this avoidance may have led to isolation, depression, or a belief that you are incapable of enjoying events, activities, or people you value. Over time, continued avoidance may intensify the severity of the fear and the subsequent maladaptive belief. So, what might be an appropriate, evidence-based treatment to address this problem area? Exposure therapy may be an appropriate option for you.

Exposure therapy is a component of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). In fact, exposure therapy has been proven to assuage symptoms associated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Social Anxiety Disorder, and Specific Phobia. Exposure therapy requires a collaborative effort between the clinician and the client. The goal is to assist you in retraining your mind and body to develop new learning that you and your body are able to tolerate fear, that fear-related symptoms do not always lead to your biggest feared outcome (i.e.dying, panic attack, others humiliating you), and that you and your body are able to tolerate and survive the symptoms and feared outcome should it arise. How do we do this? After an assessment period, we may engage in in-session exercises that expose you to your feared situations, sensations, or thoughts. These exercises take place in a safe-environment and function to expose you to what is feared or avoided in order to reduce the fear or avoidance. These exercises help you face the fear and provide opportunities for your mind and body to have new learning to reconstruct or find more appropriate beliefs about your fear and your ability to confront and tolerate what is avoided. The ultimate goal is to decrease your suffering and help you return to, or create and attend to, activities that once brought you joy in life.

If you are interested in learning more about exposure therapy, or feel that exposure therapy may be the appropriate treatment for you – please feel free to contact me for a 15-20 minute consultation or an initial session.

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