Major symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex posttraumatic stress disorder (cPTSD) – click here to read about the difference between these two conditions – are fear, anxiety and even terror induced by :
– situations related to the traumatic experience
– people related to the traumatic experience
– places related to the traumatic experience
– activities related to the traumatic experience
Prolonged Exposure Therapy Involves Two Specific Types Of Exposure To Trauma-Related Phenomena :
a) In Vivo Exposure
b) Imaginal Exposure
In Vivo Exposure :
Prolonged exposure therapy works by encouraging the individual with PTSD / cPTSD, in a supportive manner, very gradually, to confront these situations / people / places / activities whilst, at the same time, feeling safe, secure and calm. Because this part of the therapy involves exposure to ‘real life’ situations / people / places / activities it is called in vivo exposure.
This is so important because avoiding these situations / people / places / activities, whilst reducing the individual’s anxiety in the short-term, in the longer-term simply perpetuates, and, potentially, intensifies, his/her fear of these things.
The therapy also involves the PTSD / cPTSD sufferer talking over details and memories of the traumatic experience in a safe environment and whilst in a relaxed frame of mind (the therapist can help to induce a relaxed frame of mind by teaching the patient/client breathing exercises and/or physical relaxation techniques; hypnosis can also be used to help induce a state of relaxation). Because this part of the therapy ‘only’ involves mental exposure to the trauma (i.e. thinking about it in one’s mind), it is called imaginal exposure and can help alleviate intense emotions connected to the original trauma (e.g. fear and anger).
Both in vivo and imaginal exposure to the trauma-related stimuli are forms of desensitizing and habituating the patient / client to them, thus reducing his/her symptoms of PTSD / cPTSD.
How Effective Is Prolonged Exposure Therapy?
Prolonged exposure therapy is a type of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and research into the treatment of PTSD suggests it is the most effective treatment currently available.
What Is The Duration Of The Treatment?
The length of time a patient / client spends in treatment varies in accordance with his/her needs and his/her therapist’s particular approach. However, the usual duration of the treatment is between two and four months, comprising weekly sessions of approximately ninety minutes each.
On top of this, the patient / client will need to undertake some therapeutic exercises/activities in his/her own time, set by the therapist as ‘ homework assignments’. These assignments will include listening to recordings of imaginal exposure therapy sessions.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).