Exposure (and Exposure Therapy)

Within the Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) paradigm, there are some specific techniques that have produced positive results, especially when used to treat certain disorders. Exposure is one of these techniques, and Exposure Therapy is the resulting approach, used successfully for treating patients with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), phobias, other anxiety disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and other stress disorders, to name a few.


The goal of Exposure is to reduce the patient’s obsessive thoughts, fears, compulsive behaviors, or whatever is causing her distress by assigning exercises for her to carry out in which she is “exposed” to whatever is feared or dreaded. The trained clinician first must ensure the patient has been provided ample opportunities to learn coping skills (e.g., relaxation or breathing exercises) for dealing with the dreaded items or situation and thus is ready to go through with a particular “exposure.” The therapist then assigns “homework” in small steps for the patient, gradually increasing the amount of exposure. The more often or longer the OCD or PTSD patient is exposed to the situations usually avoided (without retreating), the easier it becomes for her to tolerate them.