Exposure Therapy

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Exposure Therapy

Topic Overview

Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioural therapy. Exposure therapy reduces the physical or emotional distress you experience when confronted with a particular object, situation, or distressing thought or memory. During exposure therapy counselling, you may relive a traumatic experience, confront a feared object or situation, or deal with a distressing thought while in a controlled environment.

During this type of therapy, a counsellor helps you while you remember or visualize the feared object or distressing thought. The counsellor also helps you work through the physical and emotional distress that may occur during this experience. Confronting and learning to cope with the distressing feelings gradually reduces your symptoms.

Activities during exposure therapy vary, depending on the fear, distressing thought, or traumatic experience. Hypnosis and virtual reality are sometimes used. Generally during this type of therapy, you are encouraged to:

  • Talk about your fears, thoughts, or feelings of distress.
  • Learn ways to face the fear, handle the thoughts, or deal with the physical and emotional distress.
  • View your fear, distressing thought, or physical and emotional feelings of distress in a different way.

You are also taught how to use various relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises, to deal with emotional and physical distress and fear. Using relaxation techniques helps you maintain a sense of control whenever you are confronted with the feared object, situation, or distressing thought or memory.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Lisa S. Weinstock, MD - Psychiatry
Last Revised November 23, 2010

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