Exposure therapy is a highly effective treatment approach for anxiety disorders and specific phobias. The primary goal of exposure therapy is to help people confront and overcome their fears in a controlled and gradual manner. In a sense exposure therapy allows people to take control of their anxiety rather than feeling controlled by it.
Exposure therapy can help with:
- Specific Phobias: Intense fears of specific objects or situations (e.g., heights, spiders, flying).
- Social Anxiety Disorder: Fear of social situations and interactions such as fear of public speaking, meeting new people or worries about criticism or rejection.
- Panic Disorder: Recurrent panic attacks and the fear of experiencing them.
- Agoraphobia: Fear of being in places and/or situations that might cause panic as well as feelings of being trapped or embarrassed.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Fear associated with past experiences that were threatening, painful, and difficult to come to terms with. Exposure therapy for PTSD can help individuals process traumatic memories in a safe comfortable environment so that these memories no longer bother them. The primary type of exposure therapy for PTSD is called Prolonged Exposure (PE).
How Exposure Therapy Works:
- Understanding your fear: we start off by working together to understand the specific situations and circumstances that trigger your fear.
- Creating a hierarchy: after we have identified your fear(s), we will work to create a list of situations that elicit different levels of anxiety from lowest to highest. We will consider individualized factors that may trigger more or less anxiety to create a comprehensive plan for treatment.
- Gradual exposure: we will start off by exposing you to situations that are lower on your hierarchy (situations that seem less scary) and gradually build up. These early succcesses will build your confidence in your ability to take on your greatest fears.
- Managing anxiety: we will discuss methods for managing your anxiety during the exposure itself such as coming up with more helpful ways of thinking about the situation. The beauty of doing exposure therapy with a trained therapist is that you will have someone there with you every step of the way coaching and encouraging you.
- Real Life Applications: Ultimately, the goal of exposure therapy is to help you apply what you’ve learned in real-life situations. By the end of treatment, you should be better equipped to face your fears and anxieties with ease and peace of mind.
Exposure therapy techniques include:
- In vivo exposure: This involves real-world, physical exposure to the feared object or situation. For example, someone with social anxiety might engage in a sequence of social interactions, starting with interactions with close friends, then advancing to conversations with acquaintances, and eventually participating in larger group gatherings.
- Imaginal exposure: This involves vividly imagining or visualizing the fear. Imaginal exposure is especially useful when it is not practical or possible to provide treatment with in vivo exposure. For example, someone with a fear of something that has happened in the past happening again could use imaginal exposures to create a safe space to explore those fears. This can be an especially effective way to address symptoms of PTSD, for example.
- Virtual reality exposure: This involves using computer-generated simulations to immerse individuals into feared situations in a controlled virtual environment. This technique is particularly effective when creating real-world scenarios is challenging to provide treatment with in vivo exposure. For example, somebody with a fear of flying may use a virtual reality flight simulator where they experience being on an inflight commercial airplane.
In partnership with Amelia Virtual Care, we offer virtual reality exposure to our clients for a variety of different issues. Our virtual reality exposure therapy can be conducted in office or remotely through an app that can be controlled by your therapist on the other end. These highly sophisticated virtual reality environments were designed by mental health professionals and have helped so many people to overcome their fears.
If you are interested in learning more about these treatments, please feel free to reach out. We are happy to answer any questions that you may have.