What is Exposure Therapy?
Exposure Therapy is a type of behavioral therapy developed to help people manage problematic fears. Exposure therapy uses systematic techniques to expose someone to a distressing or difficult fear. These fears can be anything from past traumas or strong negative thoughts to phobias and social anxieties. Exposure therapy was developed to help people confront their fears in a safe, controlled environment.
Exposure therapy helps to reduce the fear associated with objects, activities, or situations allowing a person to feel more neutral and in control when exposed to previous triggers.
People who struggle with fear when faced with certain situations will often avoid them. Rather than confront the fear, many people choose to ignore it, hoping it will go away. Reality is, avoiding these situations won’t cause the actual problem to go away.
In the short term, ignoring can reduce feelings of fear, but just like problems, ignoring fear isn’t a productive way of dealing with it. Avoiding or ignoring fear can build hypervigilance creating new or increasing triggers for specific fears; it can also at times cause panic attacks.
When we operate in avoidance of our fears, everyday life changes to serve our fears and to the detriment of ourselves and our lives. This can impact all areas of our functioning. When this happens, it’s common to become more distant from your friends, family, and community, avoiding specific locations. This distance and avoidance can make it difficult to maintain relationships and work may even become difficult.
With integrated exposure techniques, you can confront your worst fears in a safe and trusting place. A counselor will guide you throughout your process, helping you directly address what is blocking you from thriving.
Types of Exposure Therapy Techniques:
- In vivo exposure: Are you scared of spiders? Well, in vivo exposure will have you directly facing a spider in real life to help you face your fears.
- Imaginal exposure: This will involve actively imagining the fear. This is frequently used in the treatment of Post-traumatic stress disorder. You will be asked to recall and describe the traumatic experience in order to reduce feelings of fear.
- Interoceptive exposure: This type will help you bring on physical sensations that are feared; these are harmless sensations. Bringing on these sensations will help to normalize, build tolerance, and often reduce sensation all together.
How are Integrated Exposure Techniques used in Exposure Therapy?
At MUV, we use integrated exposure techniques most frequently with Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Exposure therapy is a behavioral therapy and, when integrated with other therapies, it works to more holistically address fears instead of just the behavior.
We have been asked, “When don’t you use exposure techniques?” The use of exposure techniques is determined by our clients symptoms and goals. Generally speaking, we will not offer exposure techniques until we have built rapport and we have a better understanding of the fear and its impact on your functioning. If a client has a history of dissociative identity disorder (DID) we will help them find a therapist who specializes in (DID).
What you can expect from using Exposure Therapy Techniques:
Conditioning: With exposure, you will find that reactions to feared objects or situations decrease.
Extinguish: Exposure weakens your learned associations between your fears and previously bad outcomes.
Self-efficacy: Exposure helps you see you’re capable of confronting fears and managing difficult or uncomfortable feelings or situations.
Emotional processing: During exposure therapy, you learn to attach new, more realistic beliefs about fears, feared activities, or situations thus becoming more comfortable with experiencing fear.