Prolonged Exposure Therapy Is A Proven Effective Treatment For PTSD Sufferers

For sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), prolonged exposure (PE) therapy is a proven, effective treatment. Sometimes referred to as "flooding", PE therapy asks the patient to relive the experience by actively engaging with the stressors, rather than avoiding them. It is a flexible treatment approach that can be adapted to each patient's unique needs and is backed by over 20 years of supportive research.

First developed by Dr. Edna Foa, Director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety, prolonged exposure therapy has been used to treat fear, depression, and anxiety associated with traumas including child abuse, rape, and military combat. PE therapy has also been shown to be effective when PTSD is co-present with a substance abuse problem.

Each therapist will have a different way of approaching the event, but there are certain features common to all variations of prolonged exposure therapy. Typically, patients with PTSD will involuntarily re-experience the traumatic event in memories, flashbacks, or nightmares. These events are triggered by (often unrelated) stimuli in the present. Prolonged exposure therapy seeks to intentionally confront both the memories of the event and the triggers that cause a panic reaction. The two main methods are 1) imaginal exposure and 2) in vivo exposure.

Imaginal exposure takes the PTSD sufferer back to the time in his memory of the traumatic event. By reliving it in this way, and dealing with the emotions that arise in the moment, the patient comes to grips with the original event. In vivo exposure helps patients to overcome anxiety-causing triggers in their daily lives by repeatedly confronting them with triggering stimuli. The former therapy typically takes place in the clinician's office, while the latter is usually assigned as "homework".


Recovering from PTSD can be a long process, which forces a patient to come to terms with a terrible event, but prolonged exposure therapy is an innovative, effective means of assistance.

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