Exposure therapy is a key method that people use to overcome their fears and phobias. This method is more and more frequently used lately and gives very good results.
What is exposure therapy?
Exposure-based therapies reflect a variety of behavioral approaches, all of which are based on exposing individuals with a phobia to the stimuli they fear. From a behavioral perspective, specific phobias are sustained due to the avoidance of stimuli, and therefore the individual does not have the opportunity to learn that he can tolerate fear, and this can diminish on its own without avoidance or escapade, being often felt unreal or untrue, as terrible as he imagines.
Avoidance can occur both during and after the situation, but is not fully experienced (for example, in the case of pre-flight alcohol consumption for people who have a phobia of flying). Exposure therapy is designed to encourage individuals to engage in situations they fear (either in real life or through imaginary exercises) and to try to stay in those situations. Situations are selected hierarchically according to the specifics of each individual, meaning it starts with the situations that cause mild anxiety, then moves on to those that cause the most anxiety, although in some forms of exposure therapy , the individual begins to be exposed to very anxious stimuli, rather than being gradually exposed.
Types of exposure therapies
There are many types of exposure therapies that are actually used in the treatment of specific phobias, and the selection of a specific approach may depend on the nature of the phobia and the preferences of the therapist or client. However, research supports some exposure therapies rather than others.
Virtual reality exposure– this technique uses a computer program that generates the phobia situation (for example being on a plane taking off, meeting a huge tarantula, looking over a window sill) and integrating real-life computer graphics with various devices so that the individual can interact with the environment.
In vivo exposure– actually involves dealing with stimuli that cause fear, usually gradually (e.g. in the case of a spider phobia, a person may first look at a picture of a spider and eventually endeavor to achieve a spider phobia). In the case of a flight phobia, a person can first read a story about a plane that crashed and then experience a flight). Therapy lasts a certain number of hours, which can be done in a longer session (for example a 3-hour session for spider phobia) or in several sessions (for example from 3 to 8 sessions with a duration of one hour – an hour and a half).
Applied muscle tension– is a special variant of in vivo exposure for the treatment of blood phobia-injections-wounds. This treatment uses standard exposure techniques and also includes exercises for muscle tension to prevent a drop in blood pressure that can lead to fainting.
Systematic desensitization– involves exposing individuals to images and thoughts that cause fear or other real phobic stimuli, and this exposure is associated with relaxation (or another response that is incompatible with fear) in order to diminish the normal fear response. This treatment tends to last longer than in vivo exposure and appears to be more effective in modifying anxiety than reducing avoidance. Therefore, it is not recommended if the client prefers to try in vivo exposure or another alternative form of therapeutic exposure.
Does exposure therapy work?
Recently, the number of people using exposure therapy has increased significantly. Studies show that many people have overcome their fears and phobias because of this technique. Specialists encourage us to use exposure therapy because it is a safe method to use. Have courage and overcome any fear!