Exposure Treatments for Anxiety Disorders: A Practioner's Guide to Concepts, Methods, and Evidence-Based Practice

By Johan Rosqvist | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Description of the
Behavioral Treatment
Strategy: Exposure

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every
experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.
You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through
this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”
You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

—Eleanor Roosevelt


EXPOSURE: A DEFINITION AND EXPLICATION

In the 1960s, psychologists were beginning to more formally use a strategy called “exposure” (although its first uses can be traced back to the 1920s [Barlow & Durand, 1999]), a method that involved asking patients to face real-life situations that they perceived as frightening. As such, patients were asked to deliberately and repeatedly come into contact with circumstances that were anxiety-provoking (e.g., using public transportation and restrooms, spending time in crowded locations, driving alone, touching certain objects or animals). This, of course, was asking people to look fear in the face, as Eleanor Roosevelt put it. In much the same way, with a variety of refinements and some modifications, this is what is still involved in exposure treatments today; that is, patients are (basically) asked to deliberately confront anxiety-provoking thoughts, situations, and circumstances, which are objectively safe of course, until their arousal levels are reduced by at least half. Patients are also asked to perform such tasks again and again, until the repetition begins to lessen, or decondition, the anxiety reaction and fear response in the presence of

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