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What is Exposure Therapy and How is it Used in Behavioral Health?

What is Exposure Therapy and How is it Used in Behavioral Health?

posted by: Nicole Hovey date: Oct 14, 2019 category: Blog comments: Comments Off on What is Exposure Therapy and How is it Used in Behavioral Health?

Behavioral health and addiction treatment providers know that different therapies help different conditions and populations. The BestNotes blog has been looking at some common therapy approaches used in a behavioral health or addiction treatment practice.

What is exposure therapy?
Exposure therapy (ET) can be used to help people confront and even overcome their fears. Trying to avoid things a person is afraid of can actually make those fears worse over time.

A clinician may recommend ET to help a patient break this pattern. The therapist creates a safe environment in which the patient faces the things that they have come to fear and avoid. Over time, this exposure can reduce that fear and avoidance.

What should happen during exposure therapy?
According to the American Psychological Association, patients can experience ET in a variety of ways. The specific approach depends on the disorder, symptoms, and fears involved. The different strategies include:

In vivo exposure involves a person directly facing their fear in real life, such as a person with a fear of spiders being in the same room as a living tarantula. While this may be useful for tangible objects, it is less practical for situations like combat-related PTSD.
Imaginal exposure involves the patient vividly imagining their feared object or situation. A person with PTSD may be prompted to remember and describe a traumatic experience.
Virtual reality (VR) exposure uses VR technology to recreate feared sensations or situations, such as a person with a fear of flying using VR technology to simulate an airplane flight.
Interoceptive exposure deliberately creates physical sensations of fear. For example, a person with panic disorder may be afraid of feeling their heart rate increase. He or she might be instructed to exercise to increase their heart rate, and learn not to fear the sensation itself.

Individuals may also face their fears in different degrees.

With graded exposure, the patient may list their fears from easiest to most difficult to face, and then begin ET with the easier fears.
Flooding takes the opposite approach, and starts ET with the most difficult fear to face.
Systemic desensitization combines exposure to the fear with relaxation exercises to help the fears feel more manageable.

Does exposure therapy really work?

ET can be used for a variety of behavioral and mental health issues related to fear, anxiety, and trauma. These include:

Phobias
Panic disorder
Social anxiety disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Generalized anxiety disorder

Studies have repeatedly found that ET can effectively reduce symptoms of these disorders. In fact, exposure-based therapy is sometimes recommended as a first-line treatment for many anxiety disorders.

Studies have shown that ET, either alone or combined with cognitive behavioral therapy, is effective for all anxiety disorders, but especially for generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD.

Improve the way you deliver therapies to your patients
Treatment and management techniques for behavioral health conditions can be complicated. Whether your patients receive ET or other types of therapy, the right EHR solution can help you and your patients set and achieve goals.

BestNotes EHR software was designed with you, your practice, and your clients in mind. Track patient progress, coordinate care with other specialists, and create all the documents you need with one optimal solution. Contact us today to learn more or request a live demo.

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