Research shows the best way to treat anxiety is through a combination of medication and exposure therapy. So what exactly is exposure therapy? This is a technique used in therapy were the counselor slowly integrates and orients you back into what your brain perceives as a life threatening environment or situation. No, we don’t throw you in “10 feet or water” and say, “swim.” Instead we have you complete tasks in baby-step fashion.
First things first.
First things first. We begin the process by creating a hierarchy, or list, of fears. Then, we number them 1-10 based on how fearful we are of that event/fear. 10 is the worst, 1 is the mildest. From there, we begin the work by starting on #1 and work our way up to #10.
For example, let’s say that you have a fear of flying. We would break that down into different parts of flying. Are you a 10 when you are in the air? Are you a 10 when you are waiting for the plane to board? Are you a 1 when you are in the air but not when you take off or land? We get very specific and order accordingly. Next, we tackle the #1 (out of 10) item on your list. So let’s say your #1 on the list is fear of taking off. You will start the process of exposing yourself to taking off. So, your therapist might have you watch a video over and over of a plane taking off. Maybe you will need to go to the airport and watch planes take off. In addition, we would also work out The Worst Case Scenario. You will go thought by thought with your therapist on taking off. He/She will usually prompt you with, “And then what will happen? And then what happens?” You keep working the scenario until you are all out of thoughts. You know you are at the end because you either say, “I’m fine,” or “Well, then I’m dead.” Over time, you will desensitize yourself to that fear.
How long does this process take?
Therapists never know how to answer that questions. Why? Because each one of us is different. There are so many factors involved: duration of panic, items on your hierarchy list, willingness to complete exposures, etc. Why do I love working with anxiety clients? Because they are very willing to do the work to get rid of anxiety. The best part? Seeing patients thrive in an event when they once were too anxious to complete.
My take away...
Here’s my take on exposure therapy…. try it. Yes, it’s another therapy that you can add to your list of ways you have tried to help yourself. But if it works, it will be the last item on your list. That at least is some good news!
Let’s keep the conversation going. Leave a comment and share what you have found helps with anxiety and/or how exposure therapy worked for you.
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