Psychologists are often asked: “Why do you use exposure therapy? It sounds torturous to ask me to face what I’ve feared and avoided for so long! Isn’t there an easier way to have the fear go away?”
Exposure therapy is a name for one of the most powerful techniques in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). Exposure is the systematic, planned encounter with whatever you have been avoiding. When you fear something or fear a situation, e.g., germs, heights, the disapproval of others, or fear the experience of anxiety itself, you form your life around avoiding that experience, often leading to a significant narrowing of your options, activities, and your life itself. When we avoid, we stop learning anything new about the feared situation or about ourselves – our avoidance keeps validating our beliefs that the situation is “too” dangerous and that we couldn’t manage it. We continue to feel defeated by the fear and our self-esteem takes a big hit.
Exposure is the letting go of the avoidance and, instead, approaching the “germs”, heights, the possible disapproval of others, the experience of anxiety itself, etc. to see what can be learned about it and about ourselves when we do so. We need to willingly put ourselves into that scary place again to test the ideas that the situation is as harmful as we expect it to be. And the result can often be transformative!
Facing your fear is actually an heroic act and calls for courage on your part to face that frightening situation that has come to dominate your life. Courage is not the absence of fear; courage is feeling the fear, but doing the thing anyway. It doesn’t take courage for someone who is not afraid of heights to climb a 6′ ladder. However, if you are someone who finds heights terrifying, it takes real courage to start to climb that ladder. By climbing the ladder, you test the idea that, given the opportunity, you might lose control and slip or throw yourself off the ladder, and can discover instead that the bad thing doesn’t happen. You also can discover that identifying and acting on the courageous part of oneself changes how you view yourself.
Exposure is a behavioral technique that has powerful cognitive effects. It can radically change the way we view ourselves as well as setting us back on course to lead the life that we want to lead, unencumbered by fear.
Please Contact Us at the Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center of Southern California if you would like to speak to a psychologist about how Exposure Therapy might be helpful to you.