What is Exposure Therapy?

As part of CBT, exposure therapy takes place both inside and outside of our office, exposing you to situations, places, or people that cause anxiety to learn how to accept risk, face uncertainty, and tolerate anxiety and discomfort.  You’ll discover how your fears have been exaggerated, and through experience, you’ll “retrain your brain” to think differently about danger, as well as your own resilience.  When your brain tells your body a situation is dangerous, it makes sense you might flee; in fact avoiding scary situations brings anxiety down. But it doesn’t take long to develop unhealthy patterns of avoidance that can shrink your life.  Exposure therapy aims to undue that cycle, replacing avoidant behavior with “approach” behavior, while at the same time, changing your thought process about the situations, and teaching you that you can tolerate anxiety.

Exposure therapy is always done collaboratively, probing, “Would you be willing to try this?” and never forcing anything.  “ERP”, or exposure and response prevention, is a specific type of behavior therapy for OCD that involves exposure to a situation that triggers intrusive thoughts (obsessions), and then prevention of a ritualistic response (compulsions).  And “HRT”, or Habit Reversal Training, is a specific type of behavior therapy for Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors—learning and practicing new behaviors inconsistent with the unwanted habit.  The goals remain the same for all: to tolerate anxiety or discomfort, “retrain the brain” to think differently, and to experience your own resiliency.