Exposure Therapy as a Treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Exposure Therapy as a Treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that is brought about due to exposure to traumatizing situations such as violence, natural disasters, war or abuse, where the physical, sexual, emotional or mental integrity of the victim is jeopardized. In addition, witnessing trauma or violence inflicted upon another can also cause post-traumatic stress disorder.

Among the numerous treatment methods that are available for post traumatic stress disorder, cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, medication consisting of anti-anxiety drugs and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) are the most promising methods of treatment. This article discusses how exposure therapy, in particular, contributes to overcoming symptoms of post traumatic stress.

What Is Exposure Therapy?

It is when the sufferer is directly or indirectly exposed to the traumatizing situation, object or event and reconditioning of the associated negative thoughts and feelings takes place in a controlled environment. Exposure therapy is somewhat controversial. Practically speaking, natural disasters or war cannot be recreated with the same intensity; thus, the therapist working with the client will never be able to understand or recondition the in depth feelings experienced while the disaster was going on. According to psychoanalysts, such traumatizing events can get rooted so deep in the unconscious mind that they can even contribute to the alteration of the individual’s personality.

Another challenge exposure therapy faces is people’s belief that reencounters with the fear may worsen it. All of these issues must be addressed delicately in order to create an optimal environment for treatment.

Forms of Exposure Therapy

Systematic Desensitization

It is the most commonly used technique. This consists of various exposure types such as talking about the trauma, watching a tape or a related movie, listening to other people talking about similar trauma, addressing unresolved conflicts such as guilt or shame brought about due to the trauma and other methods such as drawing or writing about the experience. The latter is most commonly used with children. Response prevention and reconditioning are the key objectives of systematic desensitization. For instance, a person who witnessed a murder on a street may fear walking down that street again. The therapists may assist the sufferer to do so and ensure that the street this time, is paired with something pleasant that will contribute to the reconditioning of the negative feelings that were previously instilled in the client’s mind.


It is another method of exposure therapy, but is not usually recommended for cases other than phobias. Here, the sufferer is exposed to the highest level of the fear hierarchy. For example, taking a person who is suffering from post traumatic stress due to a tsunami, to the beach, rather than helping him come into terms with water first. Going up the fear hierarchy after identifying all levels, is known to be the best method of exposure therapy.

Risks and Difficulties

Among the potential risks and difficulties in exposure therapy is the experience of intense negative feelings associated with the trauma. Forgotten memories and feelings may surface and the sufferer may go through extreme reactions, but in the presence of trained therapists, all of the expected aversive reactions can be monitored and controlled. Exposure therapy should be done gradually with great understanding of the trauma and the person’s outlook on it, in order to obtain successful results.

About the Author:

Diane H. Wong is a content writer and family psychologist. Besides, she is a research paper writer at the service where everyone can ask to “write essay for me” so she prefers to spend her spare time working out marketing strategies. In this case, she has an opportunity to share her experience with others and keep up with advancing technologies.

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