Exposure therapy is a type of CBT that is the most effective for anxiety and obsessive-compulsive related disorders. In fact, it is often referred to as the “gold-standard” of psychological treatments for these issues. Exposure involves gradually and systematically confronting fears and anxiety-provoking situations that you have been avoiding, with the aid and support of your therapist. Exposure provides the opportunity to learn that feared consequences are unlikely to come true and that your anxiety will go down naturally over time– and after repeated exposure, it will stay down. Exposures can be conducted as imaginal, where you are asked to imagine a feared situation, in vivo, or real life exposure, and interoceptive, which involves confronting feared bodily sensations. The overarching goal of exposure therapy is to reduce or eliminate avoidance of objectively safe situations, which leads to reduction in anxiety about these situations. Although this treatment causes short-term anxiety, as it involves facing the fears that you have been avoiding, it is the most effective way to gain long-term freedom from anxiety.
Exposure therapy is known to be especially effective for anxiety disorders, including social anxiety, panic disorder, health anxiety, and phobias. Common phobias treated with exposure therapy include fear of flying, animal phobias, and blood or needle phobias.
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is an empirically supported treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). ERP involves gradual and systematic exposure to anxiety-provoking situations while, at the same time, reducing and eliminating typical fear responses, such as escape, avoidance, or compulsive behaviors in OCD (e.g., checking, washing, ordering).
Prolonged Exposure (PE) is an empirically supported treatment for adults struggling with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It involves education about common reactions to trauma, relaxation skill-building, and exposure to both real-world situations causing anxiety (i.e., in vivo exposure) and processing the trauma experience in a systematic and repeated manner (i.e., imaginal exposure).
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is an empirically supported treatment for children and adolescents (ages 3 to 18) struggling with difficulties related to traumatic experiences (i.e., PTSD). This treatment involves both the child and parent in a structured, skill-building program and incorporates exposure-based techniques. The goal is to help the child process and resolve distressing feelings related to the trauma and better manage problematic thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
In exposure therapy, you can expect to: learn about causes of anxiety and factors maintaining it, understand how your thoughts contribute to the anxiety process while learning to respond to thoughts in a more adaptive manner, and most importantly, engage in gradual and systematic exposure to situations which provoke anxiety. Treatment is tailored to each client, with their specific type of anxiety and their own experiences influencing the content of each component of treatment. With young children, exposure-based CBT requires significant involvement from the parent(s).