Exposure Therapy, which includes Exposure and Response Prevention is the behavioural component of cognitive behavioural therapy, in which individuals are supported to confront activities and events that cause them anxiety, distress and discomfort. It is a powerful component of CBT.
During this therapy, individuals will confront objects, activities or situations that they have been avoiding and will learn ways to tolerate the fear, anxiety and distress. This can be done through live behavioural exposures as well as imaginary exposures.
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) work is used within the context of treating OCD. This work allows people to face their fears and triggers without turning to their rituals and compulsions (whether they are behavioural or mental). Therapists will support individuals in learning a different relationship to their obsessions and intrusive thoughts during the work of ERP. Through repeated practice, individuals will often experience a decrease in anxiety or distress when they engage with difficult situations and triggers without relying on their rituals. Even when people do not experience a decrease in anxiety, they will learn something that they were not expecting. This new learning will replace the old learning. We also focus on carrying out exposure work that is meaningful to the individual as that helps them to live a life that is aligned with their values and the person that they want to be.
Behavioural experiments can also be thought of as a type of exposure therapy. This therapeutic approach allows individuals to make predictions about situations they have been avoiding or fear. Individuals will then plan and carry out these experiments in order to test out their predictions. The outcomes of these experiments are discussed within the context of therapy and allow individuals to gain important insight.
Exposure Therapy is used within the context of many different anxiety disorders. Individuals with social anxiety, generalized anxiety, phobias and panic disorder all benefit greatly from this powerful behavioural strategy. Within the context of carrying out exposure work, individuals learn that they can handle things that they never thought they could. Individuals with perfectionistic tendencies also benefit from exposure work.
At FTPS, we use Exposure Therapy and ERP for our clients presenting with OCD, OCD-Related Disorders, and Anxiety Disorders. Even therapy for depression has elements of exposure work as we gradually approach activities that we have been avoiding due to low mood and motivation. Overall, Exposure Therapy is powerful and is considered to be transdiagnostic. This means that individuals with all different types of presenting issues have been shown to have great benefits when this approach is used in therapy.