What is Exposure Therapy?

Exposure therapy is a type of behavioral therapy that is designed to help people manage problematic fears. Through the use of various systematic techniques, a person is gradually exposed to the situation that causes them distress. The goal of exposure therapy is to create a safe environment in which a person can reduce anxiety, decrease avoidance of dreaded situations, and improve one's quality of life.

How Does Exposure Therapy Work?

When people experience anxiety due to a fear, phobia, or traumatic memory, they often avoid anything that reminds them of it. This avoidance provides temporary relief but ultimately maintains the fear and pattern of avoidance. In some cases, the avoidance can actually make things worse and give more power to the feared entity. Exposure therapy is designed to reduce the irrational feelings a person has assigned to an object or situation by safely exposing him or her to various aspects of that fear.

A number of mental health issues can be treated with exposure therapy. Many people with anxiety and trauma-related issues have found exposure therapy to be helpful. Applicable mental health issues include but are not limited to:

  • Phobias

  • Social anxiety

  • General anxiety

  • Posttraumatic stress (PTSD)

  • Obsessive compulsive anxiety issues (OCD)

  • Acute stress or other trauma-related issues

  • Panic attacks