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  • Writer's pictureInterval Health

Does Exposure Therapy For Anxiety Really Work?

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Face your fears,” since you were a child. While the simple saying helps people overcome the worries that might be holding them back, it can also be applied to more deeply rooted anxiety—when done the right way.

Anxiety is very real and can be debilitating. It can threaten to take over nearly every area of your life and severely impact how you live. While there are many treatment options, exposure therapy is a scientifically-backed solution that can help to reduce fear and keep you from avoiding living a full life.

But what is exposure therapy, really? Does it simply involve “facing your fears,” or is there more to it than that? More importantly, does exposure therapy for anxiety really work? Let’s dig a little deeper.

What Is Exposure Therapy?

No matter what makes you anxious, it’s important to note that exposure therapy is more sophisticated than just throwing you into a situation designed to make you scared. When you work with a therapist, you’ll determine which specific strategy is right for you. 

Some people do best with in vivo exposure, which involves being directly exposed to the object or situation you’re scared of. You might also be asked to imagine that object or situation. Nowadays, some therapists even use technology to immerse patients in those fears. Introducing things like virtual reality can help with exposure while assuring the patient they are in a safe place. 

That’s one of the essential components of exposure therapy. Every patient must know they are in a safe and neutral setting. A therapist will determine the pace at which treatment should go. Some people do better with “flooding” or beginning treatment with the most difficult things. Others will create a hierarchy with graded exposure, causing the patient to experience a little bit of fear at a time.

What Are the Benefits?

Does exposure therapy work? Yes. When you’re gradually exposed to the things that cause you fear, those things become less overwhelming and controlling. You’ll start to realize that you have the power to overcome them. 

Exposure therapy can change the way your brain receives and processes anxious thoughts. In the area of the brain called the amygdala, certain neurons can hold onto and trigger fear. Exposure therapy inhibits those neurons, essentially restructuring that part of the brain to give you more control.

Over time, you’ll start to see the additional benefits of exposure therapy. First, the more you go through it, the more habitual the fears will start to seem. Your perceptions of the things that cause fear can change as you realize your previous associations with your triggers were misplaced.

Exposure therapy can also improve your confidence and self-efficacy. Anxiety often threatens to take control, but this type of therapy helps to put you back in the driver’s seat. When you’re exposed to things that scare you in a safe setting, you’ll have the opportunity to see that you’re stronger than you might have thought initially.

Finally, exposure therapy can help you tap into more realistic thoughts rather than dwelling on your anxious ones. These thoughts can make it easier to manage your triggers and make them seem less intense. 

Is Exposure Therapy Right for You?

The idea of being exposed to the things causing you anxiety can feel overwhelming at first. But, the research backing this type of therapy is clear. If you’re willing to form a trusting relationship with your therapist and you’re ready to take control over your fear, exposure therapy could be the solution.

Feel free to contact me for more information or to set up an appointment. 


Jennifer Perera is a mom of two boys, a spouse and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She is also Certified as a Perinatal Mental Health Professional by Postpartum Support International. She has a private practice in Springfield, New Jersey and also sees clients throughout New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Illinois via telehealth. Her passion is helping new moms and dads find their joy again in parenthood through individual and couples counseling. She also runs workshops for new parents, teaching them techniques and strategies to help them have a stronger relationship - built to thrive during the parenthood years. Jennifer specializes in working with parents during the prenatal and postpartum periods and those coping with grief or loss issues surrounding pregnancy.


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