Exposure Therapy

Exposure Therapy


Exposure therapy is a psychotherapy treatment that is used on patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Throughout PTSD the treatment is conducted carefully being that the patient is already traumatized due to something that has happened in their life. It's common that traumatic memories can bring back a flood of emotions and fear which needs to be treated when it begins to affect the overall health of the client. Relaxation techniques are used to help deal with life stressors and the therapist will work with them to figure out what method of therapy is most fitting for the patient's unique trauma.

Goals of Exposure Therapy

The goal of Exposure Therapy is to teach the patient relaxation techniques so that they can learn how to promote a relaxed state of being that precedes their traumatic behavior. As the therapy is received over time it will eventually expose individual fears to the patient so that they can begin coping with them. When fears are exposed without the victim learning the coping techniques and imaginary exercises it can make the trauma worse by reenacting the images and feelings associated with it. The focus of Exposure Therapy is to also create a psychotherapeutic relationship with the therapist and trust them when they are teaching the patient coping mechanisms.

When is Exposure Therapy Used?

Exposure Therapy is used when a patient has been diagnosed with PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is categorized as a mental health condition that affects the victim with fearful memories and feelings due to a given event. It is used to help those who suffer from nightmares and uncontrollable anxiety. Those who have gone through a traumatic event have a hard time adjusting and getting rid of the feelings associated with it. Therapy can help them learn how to get better by accepting what has happened and learning to cope with it in a therapeutic manner. As times passes the symptoms can progress which is why it is necessary for PTSD victims to get therapy immediately.

How Exposure Therapy Works

Exposure Therapy is a treatment that helps to retrain the patient's brain so that it doesn't send a fear signal when there is no danger present. There are many who suffer from anxiety and phobias because they have associated an incorrect reaction with certain events due to a past experience. Therapy works by retraining the brain which will let go of the fears and anxieties when it has been taught to do so. The therapist will help the patient activate the Amygdala portion of their brain because it is the area that exposes them to fear. By training them in using coping mechanisms it enables the Amygdala to learn new ways to absorb information and process it.

The Amygdala is only going to learn when it has been completely activated. It will begin to form new memories every time that the individual becomes afraid. The therapist is going to resolve the conflict within the patient before going through the traumatic situation to diagnose that it is an incorrect fear before the session activates it. The problem is that most people will stay away from their fear after they've experienced it the first time. By staying away from it they actually promote the Amygdala to keep giving into the trauma.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the most common treatment that is used for anxiety disorders or PTSD. It is most effective in treating those who suffer from panic and social anxiety. During the session the therapist will use this method to highlight negative behavior patterns and ways of thinking through cognitive and behavioral therapy. The sessions are focused on learning about one's own fear and how they have the ability to control these fears through acceptance and relaxation.

Instead of avoiding the trauma and the feelings that are associated with an event, treatment supports the patient in recalling the feelings and memories. It is an emotional outlet for the patients who tend to keep those thoughts and emotions locked inside of them. The therapist works to give the client their sense of control back. They will begin to explore their feelings, work through mistrust, understand how to cope with these memories and address how the trauma has affected their personal life and relationships. By gradually exposing a patient to their feelings it identifies the upsetting thoughts and treats their irrational reactions toward them. Treatments range from family therapy to medication, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Prescribing medication will depend on the secondary symptoms that are associated with PTSD.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/DS00246/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs

Post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

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