Condition Menu

Exposure Therapy

Our Treatment Approach

Exposure therapy is an evidence-based therapeutic intervention designed to help people safely confront their fears and interrupt patterns of avoidance and anxiety. At ERC Pathlight, exposure therapy is used extensively to address anxiety disorders as well as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Avoidance is a common safety-seeking or protective response in individuals struggling with anxiety, as well as people that have experienced trauma. Avoiding disturbing thoughts, feelings, memories, physical sensations, objects, activities or situations allows fears (real or imagined) to take root in the mind and intensify over time. Eventually, this fear and anxiety can become life-disrupting.

Nutrition Services

What is Exposure Therapy?

Exposure therapy creates a safe environment in which to “expose” individuals to the things they fear in order to reduce anxiety and decrease avoidance behaviors. Patients are compassionately supported by Pathlight’s highly trained therapists throughout the exposures. Often times, exposures may be paired with relaxation techniques (breathing, mindfulness, grounding) to help patients manage their distress. Exposure work has been found to reduce emotional distress and improve overall functioning.

Exposure therapy helps patients overcome fear and anxiety in several ways, including:

  • Habituation: This is a natural decrease in anxious reactions to feared stimuli over time.
  • Extinction: The therapy weakens learned associations between feared stimuli and negative outcomes.
  • Self-efficacy: Therapists work to empower patients to manage feelings of anxiety in response to feared stimuli.
  • Emotional processing: This helps patients develop new, more realistic beliefs about feared stimuli; increasing one’s comfort with the universal experience of fear.

The appropriate type and frequency of exposure therapy can be individualized based on the patient’s needs.

Exposure therapy and trauma

Exposure therapy has been shown to effectively address trauma by dissolving learned avoidance, anxiety and fear that often develops following a traumatic event. Trauma education with different exposure techniques is particularly effective in treating PTSD.

Exposure therapy is an important intervention used in Pathlight’s Trauma Informed Care approach. In a healing environment that minimizes the likelihood of triggering symptoms of PTSD, patients explore three phases of trauma treatment:

  1. Establish safety: develop a skillset to cope with traumatic symptoms
  2. Grieving/mourning: understand the impact of the trauma on one’s life
  3. Reconnection: foster connection with others

Exposure therapy offers patients a guided path to improved emotional wellness—an important step in the journey of recovery from life-disrupting anxiety and fear.