How Does Exposure Therapy Work?

Anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental health conditions in the world. There are several different types of anxiety disorders, and untreated anxiety can often trigger a major episode of depression. Dealing with the painful and distressing symptoms of untreated anxiety can also cause a person to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. Although anxiety disorders and symptoms are incredibly common, they are highly treatable. There are numerous types of medications, and therapy techniques that can alleviate anxiety symptoms, and also help patients find relief from any comorbid or co-occurring issues. One of these therapy techniques is exposure therapy.

Exposure Therapy

What is exposure therapy?

Exposure therapy is a subtype of cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. In most cases, this type of therapy is used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but it is also useful for other clinical subtypes of anxiety, particularly phobias. The treatment is safe and effective if given under the guidance of a licensed and trained therapist. Studies have found exposure therapy to be incredibly effective for alleviating the fear and panic that patients with anxiety disorders experience.

How does exposure therapy work?

During the course of exposure therapy treatment, the therapist will guide the patient on how to face their fears, and gain a sense of control over their panic responses. Exposure therapy must be gradual, and sessions have to be conducted under the care of a trained therapist. Otherwise, the treatment risks re-traumatizing the patient and making things worse. As with all types of therapy and treatment for mental health and substance use disorders, therapy must be tailored to each patient.

Some patients can handle a technique called “flooding,” where they are confronted with the memories or reminders of their fear all at once. In cases of severe trauma, patients will benefit from a gradual introduction of fearful reminders and memories. No matter which technique is used during exposure therapy, the therapist will have to teach the patient effective relaxation techniques. This is often done by either exposing the patient to smaller reminders first or by deconstructing the memories of the trauma piece by piece, called desensitization. Exposure therapy may appear extreme, especially for patients who are victims of severe trauma or upsetting phobias. Patients are never forced to participate in exposure therapy or to do something during a session that is not safe.

Who can benefit from exposure therapy?

People who are struggling with PTSD and anxiety disorders can significantly benefit from exposure therapy. In studies on PTSD patients and exposure therapy, up to 90% of participants found either significant relief or moderate relief from their symptoms. The treatment is incredibly useful for helping patients learn how to minimize their stress responses and cope with fearful situations without resorting to maladaptive coping mechanisms, such as aggression, withdrawal, or substance abuse.

If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety and co-occurring substance use disorder, there is help. Please contact the licensed and experienced therapists at Mission Harbor Behavioral Health today to explore your options for treatment.

The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.

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