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FEAR EXPOSURE THERAPY: DOES IT WORK?



What is your biggest fear?


Whatever your answer to this question may be, you can be sure that you are not alone in this.


Fears come in all shapes and sizes, but we can all agree that they become very inconvenient, especially when impairing our everyday life.


But there must be something you can do, right?


Thankfully there is - keep reading to discover more about fear exposure and the different methods to help you manage your fears.



What Is Fear Exposure Therapy?


Exposure therapy is a form of behavioral therapy - this essentially means that it helps you identify undesirable behaviors and change them.


This type of therapy is used for the treatment of different phobias, social anxiety, panic disorder, and PTSD, and the list does not end there.


It works through gradual exposure to a particular fear using several methods to the point of feeling comfortable when exposed to it.


The science behind it is based on a method called counterconditioning.


This basically means continuously associating your fear with a different response, in this case, relaxation, until you no longer associate it with an adverse outcome.


But fear not (pun not intended) - it is way simpler than it sounds.


Let’s have a look at what you would need to do to eliminate your fears.



What Methods Are Used?


There are several types of exposure therapy and which one is used depends on the type of “fear” you are looking to treat.


Here are the main techniques used by professionals in the field.


In Vivo


This method directly translates to “in real life,” and it does exactly that.


Let’s use an example - let’s say you have a crippling fear of mice.


You will probably start by imagining a mouse in your mind, then progress to looking at pictures of mice.


With time the exposure will become gradually more and more direct until you can be in the same room with a mouse and even hold it!


Another variation of this type of exposure uses virtual reality, which can be applied in cases where real-life exposure is not practical - perhaps with the fear of flying.


Imaginal Exposure


This method will ask you to imagine the feared object or situation in your head.


The image should be very detailed and descriptive, and it might even be best to write it down and reread it multiple times.


This repeated exposure to the imagined object or situation should gradually desensitize you to the actual fear.


The goal is to stop your body from responding to the fear the same way it usually would until it is no longer threatened.


Interoceptive Exposure


The method of interoceptive exposure is more relevant for treating panic attacks or any other disorders with a strong bodily response.


It is essentially designed to create the same feeling in your body as you would have when experiencing a panic attack, for example.


If you do really high-intensity exercise for a short period of time, you will most likely experience shortness of breath, and your blood pressure will heighten.


As you might have figured out, these are all symptoms of a panic attack, and this method can show you that experiencing them is not putting you in any direct danger.



Should You Do It Alone?


So far, you have familiarized yourself with the main methods used in fear exposure therapy.


But is this something you can do alone?


We would generally suggest consulting a professional first, especially if you believe you have a serious problem concerning your mental health.


However, perhaps there is something you can take out from this and practice by yourself.


You can easily apply exposure methods to rid yourself of the fears that might be stopping you from growing and succeeding.


As we said, fears come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes we don’t realize that some can stop us from achieving our goals.


For example, do you find yourself avoiding doing a specific task or learning a specific skill because of the fear of failing?


Well, next time you catch yourself in a similar position, try imagining a situation with the worst possible outcome.


The more you do it, the more you’ll discover that sometimes trying and failing is better than not trying at all.



The Bottom Line


Fear exposure therapy is an overall excellent way to deal with your fears and anxiety.


The core idea behind it is to keep facing your fears until you no longer perceive them as threatening.


As you can see, exposure works great for dealing with certain phobias and other types of fear, such as anxiety.


So why not use the methods of fear exposure therapy as a tool to tackle the fears that are stopping you in your personal growth journey?


And, of course, don’t forget to congratulate yourself when you overcome them - facing your fears is not easy!

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