What is Exposure Therapy?

Goda Brzozauskaite
  • Apr 22, 2022
  • 5 min read
stress fear breaking up woman portrait

Have you ever heard the saying, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor”? Life is filled with curveballs, setbacks, and much more. In order for a skilled sailor to exist, they need to deal with whatever life throws at them. Many people suffer from fears, phobias, addictions, traumas, and all sorts of problems that hold them back in life. Let’s explore the topic of what exposure therapy is further?

Exposure therapy is a specific type of therapy that helps people to overcome their fears, trauma, phobias, and anxiety. If you have had a past trauma that is making it hard to carry on, then exposure therapy is there to help.  The fundamental principle of this type of therapy is to expose you directly to your fears. This takes place in a very controlled and safe place, with a professional therapist. 

Types of exposure therapy

Different types of exposure therapy exist, in conjunction with various online counseling. The great news is that they are all very helpful. Each one has been specifically designed in order to really target the individual's exact fears or phobia. These fears and phobias may be limiting you to reach your full potential. No more allowing life to hold you back, because these techniques do and will work. The four main kinds of exposure therapy:

Virtual reality exposure

This particular kind of therapy works by making use of both in vivo exposure and imaginal. Basically, you are placed in a situation that looks real and feels real. However, it has been artificially created in order to genuinely help you reduce and alleviate your fears. For example, if you are afraid of snakes, you may be placed in a room that appears to have snakes everywhere. 

In Vivo exposure

When this exposure type of therapy takes place, it can be really scary. You will be directly exposed to real situations, scenarios, and objects that are the object of your fear or phobias. An example could be that if you are scared of driving, you will need to actually get in a car and drive to the shop and back. 

Imaginal exposure

This type of exposure therapy requires tons of mental work. If you are scared of flying, you will need to imagine flying in your mind. You will go through specific steps and you will be made to feel like it is really happening then and there. You will need to imagine all the steps from packing your bag, going to the airport, and eventually flying on the plane. Every feeling, thought, and fear you will get help in dealing with, every step of the way.

Interoceptive exposure

This entails purposefully, creating physical sensations. This exposure therapy is harmless in nature but does bring out a true sense of fear in someone. Real physical sensations are created, in order to help the sufferer. The idea is to create somatic symptoms that the sufferer actually associates with a real threat. An example could be making someone who suffers from severe panic attacks, to run around the room without stopping. Eventually, the person should start to feel an elevated heart rate, hot sensations, and real feelings that are associated with panic attacks and panic disorder.

How Does Exposure Therapy Work?

If you are now able to answer the question what exposure therapy is better, that is great, but we are sure that you are wondering about how it actually works. We are here to answer these questions for you and so much more.

Exposure therapy may often be introduced to a person in a gradual manner. Depending on the extent of the fear and other factors involved, sometimes there is a build-up. No one will be expected to simply face their fears immediately. It often takes time; consistency and it is also a process.

An example can be a person who is terrified of driving. This person may have experienced a car accident many years ago. It may be so bad that this person may need to start driving for financial reasons. Instead of this person being exposed to driving all of a sudden. It will be done gradually; the person may need to get used to simply getting in the driver’s seat and sitting there. After some time, the person may need to get into the driver’s seat and simply start the car. Eventually the person may be required to get in the car, start the car and drive out of the parking bay and around the block. This will take time and it won't all happen at once. Eventually the person will be at a point where they are able to drive to the shop and back. It will increase from there.

What is frequently seen with people who experience fears and phobias, is a high level of avoidance. People with fears of crowds may avoid people to the point that they never attend social events. It may get worse and worse over time until the person barely leaves their home. This cycle of avoiding, fearing, and trying to feel better, tends to cause the individual constant distress. It may get so bad, this person becomes unable to do anything, even work.

The goal behind exposure therapy is to help people face their fears and reduce their thoughts and feelings behind these fears. They often have built up these fears and phobias in their minds to such an extent, that it is controlling them. By actively exposing someone to their fears and phobias, it helps to reduce the feelings and fears they have attributed to those objects, situations, or even people.

Previously we looked at the four main kinds of exposure therapy techniques. These were virtual reality exposure, In Vivo Exposure, Imaginal exposure, and Interoceptive exposure. The question that many people want to know is what techniques are used for online therapy? The techniques that are used are virtual reality and Active-imaginal exposure therapy.

What exposure therapy can help with

Exposure therapy is an excellent therapeutic technique that is used to treat a wide range of anxieties and phobias. These may range from mild in nature to severe. In many cases, other types of therapies may have been tried, without much success.

Exposure therapy for social anxiety can be helpful. It can also be used to treat panic disorder, specific phobias (which range from a fear of sharks to a fear of dying from cancer). The list of phobias and fears that people have can be literally anything.

Prolonged exposure therapy is useful for treating generalized anxiety disorder, also known as GAD. Post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, and even obsessive-compulsive disorder, also known as OCD.

This type of therapy can help you if you experience panic attacks, stress-related anxiety or phobias. Regardless of what your fear, phobia, or anxiety is, this type of treatment is ideal.

Is Exposure Therapy Effective?

The questions that need to be asked are: how effective is exposure therapy? If it is effective, how effective is it really?

The simple answer is yes, it is extremely effective. When you take into account the various studies and their results, the answer speaks for itself.

In relation to a 2019 OCD research report, the findings conclude that exposure therapy is one of the first lines of treatment. This method of therapeutic intervention has been highly supported.

Studies have shown that in terms of phobias, vivo exposure is effective. In fact, the majority of patients had a positive response to treatment.

In 2020, exposure therapy was used to treat anxiety disorders in children. The results concluded that it was over 90 percent successful.

These are just some of the many examples that exist. proving its success. Not only is it effective, but the results are also long-lasting. 

Things to consider before starting Exposure Therapy

Just like any other type of therapy, there are concerns and limitations. Prior to choosing this type of therapy, you should know the fine print, before diving in headfirst.

Not all therapists offer and work with this kind of therapy. Therefore, it is best to find a therapist who is comfortable working with this particular type of therapy. It is also preferred to choose someone who has had prior experience and success with past patients.

When it comes to treating severe cases of PTSD such as war veterans, not all professionals believe in the success of this technique. Some psychologists have a tendency to believe that it can trigger further trauma. They believe that it could make the symptoms worse and not better. 

Fortunately, all therapists are human beings, just like you and I. Therefore, they may differ in their approaches, belief systems, and ideologies. Not all therapists offer online therapy either. This does not only apply to this type of therapy, but to all types across the board.

Final Words 

It can be said that after taking everything into account, this kind of treatment is actually very effective. Therefore, if you or someone that you know, is looking to start treatment, or want to enquire about it, then you have come to the right place. 

We are here to genuinely help, support and encourage you. We have a wide range of amazing professionals, who will be able to work with you, to target your specific fears or phobias that you may have. Our incredible online therapy approach makes it accessible to everybody, no need to suffer anymore. Get started now and face your fears the right way. 

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