Being crippled by intense fear does not help an individual grow. Staying in the comfort zone could become a hindrance to experiencing all that life has to offer. For instance, the fear of heights is very real. It can prevent people from enjoying a range of adventure sports such as bungee jumping or paragliding, which elevate adrenaline levels and help us conquer our fears.
In a completely different scenario, a victim of post traumatic stress order (PTSD) may need help overcoming intrusive thoughts, not allowing the person to move on from the traumatic episode. A type of behavioral therapy called exposure therapy can be explored by people wanting to look fear in the eye and confront external stimuli such as cockroaches, flying or other phobias.
Otherwise, distressing thoughts and physical sensations are the internal stimuli that can be possibly addressed through exposure therapy. By recreating the feared object or situation through virtual reality, imagination or exposure to the fear itself in real life, the therapy aims to stimulate a neutral and unemotional reaction with recurrent exposure.
The therapy is largely the treatment of anxiety disorders. For it to work, it can either take a few sessions to a year or more of therapy. It depends on the person and what works for each individual. Here are some of the various techniques employed by exposure therapy:
Prolonged Exposure Therapy
A combination of psychoeducation and cognitive behavioral therapy are needed to learn how to respond better to the triggers ( smells, sounds etc). People with PTSD are taught to reframe their destructive thought patterns concerning the traumatic experience with the help of prolonged exposure therapy.
The therapy can be completed without the presence of a psychologist just by the person taking the initiative to confront fears independently. The individual can randomly get immersed in this situation and train his or her mind to be less responsive in a negative way. Making a list of the steps to be taken to fight the fear and doing them bit by bit makes it easier.
Exposure And Response Prevention
This is mainly for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The patient is exposed to the obsessions as a surprise without telling them in advance to test them. They are expected to react with normal compulsive behavior learned in therapy. If not, the unannounced exposure to the fear is repeated until the behavior is learnt.
Graduated Exposure Therapy
The person is gradually made to face the perceived danger on a hierarchical level of their choice, from least to most threatening.
Flooding Exposure Therapy
This type of exposure therapy is used to get over phobias by engaging the person in the anxiety causing situation without a prior warning.
Exposure therapy benefits people with generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety and people who are battling ongoing anxiety or stress in a particular situation. This is achieved by habituating the person to the negative stimuli so they respond to the feared object or situation with less reactivity.
OCD, PTSD and irrational phobias are the result of negative thought processes on loop. With the help of the exposure therapy, patients learn how to identify the disturbing thoughts and compulsions, then eventually change their approach to the situation with adequate coping mechanisms.