Exposure therapy is one of the most effective treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After a traumatic event, many individuals experience distress and other symptoms of PTSD. The distress may be highest when dealing with the memories, thoughts, feelings and situations related to the traumatic event.
Exposure Therapy and PTSD: Why is it used?
Exposure therapy is a commonly used therapy for treatment of anxiety disorders, specific phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is common for people to avoid situations that remind them of a trauma, because it may bring up negative or uncomfortable emotions. If you experienced trauma by once being trapped in an elevator, you may climb 9 flights of stairs to avoid going in one. If you have PTSD from your time serving in the military, you may avoid places where there will be loud noises or decline to watch movies or T.V. shows that depict war scenes. Aside from inconveniencing yourself and other people, avoiding things that remind you of trauma means that you are never able to overcome it. In fact, avoiding situations that cause remind you of your trauma may make your fears even worse.
Exposure Therapy and PTSD: How does it work?
Exposure therapy for PTSD exposes you to the situations or objects you fear. The idea is that if you are repeatedly exposed to things that cause you to relive your trauma, you will eventually get over your fear, and stop associating those things with traumatic events. Exposure therapy for PTSD involves either you confronting the situations in real life or your therapist directing you to imagine the scary situation. Virtual reality exposure (VRE) therapy is a modern but effective treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and has been tested on several active duty Army soldiers using an immersive computer simulation of military settings.
Exposure Therapy and PTSD: What are the goals?
The goal of exposure therapy and PTSD is to help reduce a person’s fear or anxiety. The ultimate goal is to eliminate avoidance behavior and improve quality of life. Eventually, the hope is the patient will be able to go into situations they once feared without any distress or PTSD symptoms. Standard treatment consists of 8-15 sessions conducted once or twice weekly for 90 minutes each. The duration of treatment can be shortened or lengthened depending on the needs of the client and his or her rate of progress.
Exposure Therapy and PTSD: What does it entail?
Exposure therapy for PTSD has four main parts:
1. Education: Exposure therapy for PTSD starts with education about the treatment. The patient learns about common trauma reactions and PTSD. It allows them to learn more about their symptoms and to understand the goals of treatment.
2. Breathing: Relaxation techniques like controlled breathing are taught before the actual exposure. This is so the patient knows how to control anxiety and fear to manage distress.
3. Real World Practice: This is the part of exposure therapy for PTSD where the patient is exposed to the situation that causes distress either by guided memory, real life exposure, or virtual reality exposure.
4. Talking through the trauma: Talking through the trauma memory over and over can help the patient get more control about the thoughts and the feelings about the trauma.