Exposure Therapy for Anxiety: How Effective is It?

Are you struggling with anxiety and considering exposure therapy? Do you have questions regarding the efficacy of exposure therapy for anxiety? It turns out that exposure therapy can greatly help those with anxiety address their symptoms and get the help they need.

What is Exposure Therapy?

Exposure therapy is an element of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in which you experience whatever triggers your anxiety in a controlled and therapeutic way. During this treatment, you are exposed to your anxiety trigger, which creates feelings, emotions, and reactions. You, in turn, process those reactions with your therapist. The treatment goal is that you will no longer feel anxiety when exposed to your trigger. Some examples of exposure therapy include:

  • Seeing a picture of a car accident
  • Hearing the sound of gunfire
  • Visualizing a scene from your past when you experienced trauma

Perhaps the most in-depth use of exposure therapy for anxiety comes from the military. In these cases, veterans use virtual reality to simulate combat situations as part of their exposure therapy treatment. They, in turn, process with a therapist what they experienced.

How Does Exposure Therapy Work?

Usually, the practitioner will use exposure therapy in small, limited doses at first. The objective is to elicit an emotional reaction from the client without “flooding” them with too much, too fast. Too much/too fast could cause the client to shut down and not get much benefit from the treatment. In the case of anxiety induced by trauma, the ultimate goal is to help your brain process what it experienced. When this happens, your brain can relax, knowing that it is safe, and allow you to lower the defenses that often come with anxiety symptoms. For example:

  • Feeling on edge
  • Being alert
  • Nervousness

Remember, anxiety occurs because your brain believes that it is in an unsafe situation. This is true whether you were in a traumatic situation such as a car accident, or suffer from an obsessive fear like a fear of germs. When your brain recognizes that it is safe, it can begin to relax and you will experience less anxiety.

Is Exposure Therapy for Anxiety Effective?

Yes! Research has shown that exposure therapy is effective in treating anxiety. Although you must face difficult memories or experiences, you do so in a controlled, intentional manner with the support of a trained therapist. Plus, when you are with your therapist, you can practice ways to calm yourself so that when you’re outside of his or her office in the real world, you have tools readily available. That way, if you experience an anxiety attack, you have resources available to cope.

How Can I Experience Exposure Therapy for Anxiety?

The best way to experience exposure therapy for anxiety is by partnering with a trained clinician who knows how to best utilize the technique. You do not want to practice this on your own. The reason is, you might experience too much, too quickly. Also, you may not yet have the emotional tools or vocabulary to express what you are feeling. A therapist can be with you during your exposure therapy sessions to identify when it is time to back off. Also, a therapist will know how to engage you so can stay emotionally safe.

Anxiety can be an emotionally crippling condition that leaves you struggling to get by, day-by-day. It may seem hopeless, but emotional therapy for anxiety does offer a chance resolve the problem. When you work with a therapist, you’ll work together to better understand what triggers you and to identify the emotions you are experiencing. Then you can learn how to cope with, and, hopefully, resolve your anxiety.

Questions, Concerns, Thoughts?

I invite you to call me for a free 15 – minute phone consultation to discuss your specific needs and to answer any questions you have about anxiety, treatment and my practice. Please visit my website @ www.theanxietydocseattle.com or call me directly @ (206) 745-4933.