When therapeutic practices were first being developed, one of the major challenges that researchers faced was designing treatments that reliably succeeded in helping people with decreasing excessive fear and increasing positive emotional experiences. Although therapy has advanced considerably today, we recognize that evidence-based techniques to manage excessive fear and other uncomfortable emotional experiences, are sometimes not carried out in a way that leads to satisfying results. That is why at the Cincinnati Center for DBT we emphasize the importance of our therapists implementing exactly what up to date scientific research recommends, and we are committed to the empirical-way of solving problems collaboratively with you.
With this emphasis on evidence, DBT has combined new scientifically-proven techniques with other longstanding techniques that have proven to be effective when tested in many different ways. One of these longstanding techniques—exposure therapy—is both challenging and exciting to learn. We always tell our clients that we will not ask them to do anything that we are not willing to do ourselves, and exposure therapy is no exception! We love exposure therapy because we know that when clients take courageous steps to face their fears and distressing emotions within a highly supportive and safe context, anxiety, depression, traumatic reactions, and other distressing forms of suffering stop taking over people’s lives, allowing for freedom and joy to emerge.
Exposure therapy by itself is a form of treatment whereby a person chooses to expose themselves to a feared emotion, situation, or mental imagery in order to create new associations and decreased reactivity and distress. Sound intimidating? Most of us, as therapists, when we first heard about exposure, had our reservations too. Yet, then, we experienced it—with expert training—and realized that when completed with a qualified, trained mental health professional, exposure can be an incredible, life-saving treatment! We also have some added evidence-based techniques on our end to make the positive associations form faster and the process of doing the therapy more tolerable, encouraging, and supportive as the person faces their fears with courage.
Using exposure within an acceptance-based context with expert mental health clinicians can lead to incredible results in terms of decreasing emotional suffering and increasing freedom, though perhaps the experience still sounds a bit hard to imagine if you have not tried it before. Here are a couple more evidence-based tips about exposure that might make the treatment more understandable:
(1) Clients are never exposed to things that are actually unsafe, only things that the brain keeps telling us (annoyingly) that they are unsafe! (2) Exposure puts clients in the drivers-seat whereby the client gets to decide which fear to tackle, when they would like to do a task, to what extent, and with what intensity. There is never anything forced in exposure. (3) There is lots of positive reinforcement and excitement that can happen after exposure is over. You might feel like a rock star. We did when we worked to conquer our fears, and we are still working to overcome our fears today.
We would love to have the opportunity to face fears courageously and strategically with you. Freedom and positive emotional experiences are on the other side of stepping up to the challenge you are called to face.
About the Author
Samuel Eshleman Latimer (he/his), Psy.D., is a clinical psychology postdoctoral fellow that specializes in dialectical behavior therapy and effective conflict management. Samuel also works to help people find relief from anxiety, trauma, and relationship distress. Samuel believes that people do not need to choose between learning effective techniques that are based on science and developing warm, genuine relationships, as both of these styles complement each other. Click Here to learn more about Samuel’s experience and therapeutic style.
American Psychological Association Describes Exposure Therapy: Click Here
Exposure Therapy as a First-Line Treatment for Anxiety Disorders: Click Here