Exposure therapy is a way to treat anxiety disorders. The core of the therapy is that the patient exposes himself to all kinds of things associated with the trauma. Step by step and with the therapist’s help, the patient breaks through avoidances and automated reactions.
The therapy is based on the fact that you have to go through a tension curve when you find something scary. The more anxious a person is, the higher the tension. By avoiding something for a long time, the tension will only increase and the tension curve becomes as it were higher and longer. When you confront this fear by means of exposure, it will first increase the tension, but over time it will decrease again. At a next time, the tension will also increase but to a lesser extent and the tension will last less long. The more often this is done, the more the tension and anxiety will decrease.
In exposure therapy, the patient recalls his or her traumatic memories in detail. The patient tells exactly what happened to him or her, especially the most difficult moments. Those difficult moments are repeated over and over again. In this way, the patient discovers that the experience can be shared without any disastrous event happening to him or her. The trauma is increasingly becoming something from the past, which can no longer cause any harm in the present. It often relieves to be able to tell the story repeatedly in detail; this reduces the fear of the memory of the traumatic event.
The therapist helps the patient in controlling the anxiety that is evoked. As a result, people get used to the memory, confidence and sense of security restore and the symptoms reduce.
Scientific research has demonstrated the effectiveness of exposure therapy. Fear of worsening the symptoms, however, prevents many therapists from applying this technique.
- Exposure therapy is often used in combination with cognitive therapy,
eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), distraction or