What is exposure therapy?

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Exposure therapy: Overview

Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy. It reduces the physical or emotional distress you feel when confronted with a particular object, situation, or distressing thought or memory. During this type of counseling, you may relive a traumatic experience, confront a feared object or situation, or deal with a distressing thought. But you do it while in a controlled environment.

During this type of therapy, a counselor helps you while you remember or use your mind to see the feared object or distressing thought. The counselor also helps you work through the physical and emotional distress that you may feel during this experience. You confront and learn to cope with the distressing feelings gradually. And this reduces your symptoms.

Activities during exposure therapy vary, depending on the fear, distressing thought, or traumatic experience. Hypnosis and virtual reality are sometimes used. Often during this type of therapy, you are encouraged to:

  • Talk about your fears, thoughts, or feelings of distress.
  • Learn ways to face the fear, handle the thoughts, or deal with the physical and emotional distress.
  • View your fear, distressing thought, or physical and emotional feelings of distress in a different way.

You are also taught how to use various relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises. They help you deal with emotional and physical distress and fear. Using these techniques helps you keep a sense of control when you are confronted with the feared object, situation, or distressing thought or memory.

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