Exposure Therapy For PTSD
Exposure therapy is one of the most sought-after treatments for PTSD. It assists people in facing and processing their traumatic memories and stressful situations, leading to increased confidence and comfort with them.
The initial step in exposure therapy is finding a professional who is qualified to administer it. A psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed social worker experienced in treating PTSD would be ideal. Ask your doctor for a referral or search online to locate an experienced specialist near you.
At your initial sessions, your therapist will explain exposure therapy and assist in getting started. They may also teach you a breathing technique to manage anxiety during exposure.
They will then use this technique to expose you to people, places, or activities that have been avoided since your trauma. These could include work, school, and social situations.
Your therapist may start with the easier situations and gradually build up to more challenging ones. You may need to practice exposure therapy for some time before feeling comfortable enough to enter these types of situations on your own.
Exposure therapy often involves imaginal exposure, which involves vividly recalling specific past events that cause anxiety. With repeated exposure, these emotions and feelings may lessen or even replace them with more appropriate ones.
Prolonged Exposure (PE) is another common method of exposure therapy for PTSD. This therapy requires 8-15 weekly sessions and aims to reprocess distressing traumatic memories.
Cognitive processing therapy focuses on discussing traumatic memories, while extended exposure therapy requires you to confront your fears and emotions in real-time situations and environments which you may have avoided since your trauma.
This type of therapy employs various techniques, such as graded exposure, flooding, systematic desensitization and extinction. It may also be combined with relaxation exercises like guided eye movement.
Studies have demonstrated that prolonged exposure can help you break the association between your traumatic memories and immediate physical or mental reactions such as extreme anxiety, anger, or dissociation.
A study revealed that 80% of patients treated with prolonged exposure experienced significant improvement in their symptoms after several months.
This technique can be successful for treating various kinds of traumatic memories, including flashbacks, nightmares and intrusive thoughts. It has also been known to treat panic attacks, fear of open spaces and other phobias related to trauma.
During PE, your therapist will assist you in creating an exposure fear hierarchy – which outlines objects, activities and situations that you are afraid of. Over time they will gradually expose you to the most challenging items until they no longer cause fear or distress.
Additionally, you’ll learn to dissociate physical symptoms like a fast heartbeat, chest pain or dizziness from their psychological causes. Doing this helps you recognize the root causes of your PTSD and prevent future triggers from occurring.