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Is Exposure Therapy Right for Me?

Is Exposure Therapy Right for Me?

If you have been diagnosed or believe that you may have symptoms consistent with an Anxiety Disorder, OCD, an OCD Spectrum Disorder or Unresolved Trauma, it’s likely that you live each day with the dread, fear & doubt that is at the core of these diagnoses. In addition to feeling emotionally anxious, you probably experience the physiological symptoms, such as a racing heart, difficulty breathing, sweating, dizziness, & the other physiological indicators of anxiety & panic. In the beginning, you may have tried to avoid it or distract yourself, but eventually, you began to play by its rules, repeating the irrational thoughts & acting on the illogical urges & mental games that you are forced to engage in .

If the above description sounds like your life, then its important that you learn about a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, CBT, called Exposure Based Therapy. I am one of the few clinicians in Central Florida who provides Exposure Based Therapy both in & outside of the office setting, what is referred to as “in vivo” or therapy provided within the environment or situation in which the anxiety occurs, as well as through online services. Because I believe that all therapy should be evidence-driven, meaning, that the choice of treatment for a specific issue should be based on clinically valid research that proves its effectiveness, I have spent my entire career studying the application of CBT & Exposure Therapy, what has been shown to be more effective than any other form of therapy or medication, for treating the specific issues I specialize in.

What is Exposure Therapy?

Exposure-Based Therapy was created to help individuals learn to face their fears in a healthy, safe environment, while typically also using a myriad of other CBT techniques. Its use is based upon the existence of the Anxiety/OCD Cycle. Initially, individuals attempt to avoid certain situations or engage in behaviors that they believe will reduce their discomfort. Unfortunately, not only do these compensatory responses not rid the person of their discomfort, but instead, the individual begins to up the ante, feeling the need to perform even more intense or frequent actions. This pattern of conditioned behaviors is woven into daily practice, becoming more important & powerful, worsening the person’s symptoms overall. Breaking this cycle can only occur when an individual is ready to face their fears & discomfort head on.

Just as there are many diverse types of Anxiety-based diagnoses, there are differing forms of Exposure Therapy that work in various ways depending on how & why they are being implemented. Examples of Exposure Therapy include:

  • Graded Exposure – By creating a hierarchy of fears from least to most, we gradually face more challenging feared objects, situations, events as each prior one is mastered. Typically, through this process, many additional fears & issues subside as others are conquered.
  • Systematic Desensitization – Like Graded Exposure, but with the inclusion of relaxation & mindfulness exercises as proactive tools. The use of a systematic hierarchy, working from least to greatest fears, is my preferred choice of treatment for nearly all issues utilizing Exposure methods.
  • Interoceptive Exposure -Exposures that are aimed at helping individuals attack the physiological symptoms that are typically part of the “Fight or Flight Response” such as: hyperventilating or feeling as though they cannot breathe, tightness in their chest, pounding heart/increase in blood pressure & pulse, dizziness, nausea, along with a myriad of other symptoms unique to each individual. This is particularly effective with Panic Attacks, as many people are conditioned to associate their symptoms with an attack.
  • Imaginal Exposure – Rather than facing a situation in person, these are exposures that the individual is guided through in their mind, with the goal of imagining confronting what is feared, with a gradual elimination of the psychological & physiological anxiety over time. This type of therapy is prevalent in treating traumatic memories.
  • Exposure & Response Prevention Therapy (ERP Therapy) – This type of therapy is used in treating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The goal of ERP is for individuals to learn to face the extreme discomfort caused by their intrusive thoughts &/or compulsive urges repeatedly without allowing them to engage in any compensatory behaviors or avoidance. While the idea of challenging one’s thoughts & compulsions is frightening, when used with adjunctive CBT strategies, an individual consistently lessens their discomfort each time they encounter it; over time, the anxiety & discomfort associated with a specific thought or the urge to act on an impulse will completely subside. Although OCD is not “curable”, ERP is a powerful tool that empowers & teaches the individual that can develop an arsenal of tools to live a life that is controlled by them, not their disease.

If you, or someone you care about, is struggling with any of the issues listed above, please feel free to call, email, or use the convenient “Contact Me” link located on every page to reach out to me. I speak with all potential clients on the telephone before the initial appointment, to ensure we are the right fit for one another. I look forward to the opportunity to help you begin to Live Your Life Fearlessly!