What Is Exposure Therapy for PTSD?

Exposure Therapy for PTSD, Exposure Therapy, post-traumatic stress disorder, goal of exposure therapy, Primary Treatment for PTSD

Extraordinarily stressful events are often said to “change us.” In reality, the brain isn’t always capable of properly processing these events, and when that happens, it creates a change within the brain’s structure and chemistry. This often leads to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The trauma experienced could be watching a loved one suffer or die. It could be the intensity of being in an abusive relationship for years or the few minutes of terror experienced during a tornado.

Whatever the event is, it creates a moment of overwhelming fear or a chronic underlying anxiety that can wear you down over time. The last thing you ever want to do is relive the experience. In fact, in an effort to avoid reliving that pain, some people will self-medicate with addictive substances or behaviors.  

Yet one of the primary treatments for PTSD and other mental health disorders is exposure therapy. Does that mean you’ll be asked to relive your experience in therapy? Not exactly. Understanding what exposure therapy is and why it works can ease any fear you might have of this type of care.

What Is Exposure Therapy?

Exposure therapy is a type of talk therapy done with a professional in a safe location. More specifically, it is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, also known as CBT. A group of therapies used in CBT are known to provide individuals with significant improvement and relief from the symptoms of many mental health disorders.

The goal of exposure therapy is to learn that you no longer need to be afraid of your memory of that traumatic event. It doesn’t take away that memory. It also doesn’t make you experience the terror all over again. Instead, it helps create a realization and recognition that whatever happened does not have to control your thoughts and behaviors any longer.

With exposure therapy, a person will open up gradually about the memories they have, along with the feelings that accompany them. They will talk about the situation in a very controlled and safe environment. The focus is on how those memories and feelings have led to certain beliefs about the world, and how those beliefs affect behavior.

What Happens During Exposure Therapy?

One of the foundations of exposure therapy is that it helps clients stop fearing the past trauma. Yet, many people are terrified at the thought of having to “relive” their experience. What you’ll learn in therapy is that you can go at your own pace and remain in control. You open up as you can. Your therapist will always prepare you for what’s to come.

Here’s what to expect, in general, when receiving exposure therapy:

  • Your therapist will talk to you about what exposure therapy involves.
  • You’ll provide some information about your past so that your therapist can direct and support you through this process.
  • Next, you’ll practice breathing techniques that help to calm the central nervous system. These can help you work through any anxiety you feel ahead of therapy.
  • Often in a second session, your therapist will help you to make a list of all of the people, things, experiences, and locations you have avoided since you suffered the trauma.
  • You’ll work one by one through that list to think about why you avoid the thing and open up as much as you can about that experience.
  • Over time, the more you talk about it and allow yourself to explore the topic, the easier it gets. You’ll find that you don’t feel the same anxiety, heart-pounding fear, and worries that you did initially.
  • Once you are ready to do so, you’ll talk through the trauma with your therapist. While doing so, you’ll engage in imaginary exposure, a process of recognizing that traumatic thoughts and feelings are no longer impacting your actual life.

The process continues for as long as it takes for you to be able to open up about your anger, fear, anxiety, sadness, and other emotions you feel regarding the trauma. Most people begin to see improvement in their overall symptoms within a few sessions, but real progress continues over time.

When you reach out to The Ranch at Dove Tree, we’ll create an individualized treatment plan to address your specific needs and structure your care around the very specific level of support you need. For some, PTSD can cause addiction, and if that is the case, you can receive drug and alcohol addiction treatment as well.

Are You Ready to Embrace Change?

Don’t let fear and trauma limit your future. Reach out to our admissions counselors in Lubbock, TX, to discuss treatment for PTSD.