Types of psychotherapies treating mental illnesses - Part 1: Exposure Therapy

Types of psychotherapies treating mental illnesses – Part 1: Exposure Therapy

Mental illness is not “all in the head.” It is a serious medical condition that needs immediate attention. Unlike physical injury, the intensity or the damage caused by the mental illness cannot be seen or measured precisely, which makes it more debilitating.

Since an individual’s mental condition has a direct impact on his or her physical well-being, it is important to choose a treatment that is holistic in approach and provides definite relief and leads to recovery. In recent times, psychotherapy has emerged as one of the most widely used treatments for mental disorder.

Studies show that psychotherapies have been successful in treating various kinds of mental disorders. Commonly known as ‘talk therapy,’ psychotherapy primarily involves strategies and tools to understand the illness of the patient and counter as well as overcome the associated stress, pessimism, and negative behavior.

Different types of psychotherapies are designed to deal with different kinds of mental disorders. For instance, exposure therapy is chiefly designed to address anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorder is a mental condition wherein the patient experiences constant fear. Through exposure therapy, people are made to confront their fears so that they can overcome them and lead a better life.

Understanding exposure therapy

Exposure therapy comes under the umbrella of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which is used for treating anxiety disorders by bringing about changes in a person’s behavior.  Exposure therapy is widely used to cure disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and phobias.

During the therapy, the patient is made to identify the triggers of his or her anxiety and understand them. Subsequently, the patient is taught techniques and methods to overcome those fears, thereby addressing the anxiety. There are two types of exposure therapy. One works to stimulate a large number of triggers all at once and then address them, while the other takes into account a lesser number of triggers at one time and then increasing the numbers with time.

Techniques of exposure therapy

The prime technique of the exposure therapy is to make the patients confront their fears, teaching them strategies to deal with their apprehension, and are able to lead a normal and healthy life. Mentioned below are some of the methods for conducting exposure therapy:

  • In vivo exposure: This method involves exposing the person to his fears in real time situation. For instance, a person who is afraid of dogs are made to spend time with the animal and taught how to handle it, or people with social anxiety are made to give public performances such as speech in front of a large crowd.
  • Imaginal exposure: In this technique, the patients are asked to imagine their triggers to invoke fear in them. This is useful in treating PTSD. Such patients are made to imagine the incident or the trauma that induced the mental disorder in them. Thereafter, they are taught to recognize and understand their triggers and reduce the fear.
  • Virtual reality exposure: This technique is used when creating a real situation for the patient is not possible. In such cases, an artificial environment is created to simulate the real experience for the patient. For instance, for a person fearful of flying, conditions similar to an actual flight are simulated by recreating the interior of a plane with lights, sound, and smell at the treatment center itself and exposing the patient to it.
  • Interoceptive exposure: Mainly used in cases of panic disorder, it involves stimulating physical sensations in the patients. It is done to teach the patient that such sensations are not dangerous.

Alternate road to recovery

Exposure therapy has been certified as a safe treatment, however, it has some limitations. While the therapy has given good results in treating anxiety disorders in the majority of the cases, it has not been able to address the issue in some. Therefore, the therapy is often combined with medication and other therapies.

If your loved one is suffering from any kind of mental illness or anxiety disorder, contact the California Mental Health Helpline to know about the reputed mental health facilities in California. You may call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-559-3923 or chat online to speak with our representatives who are committed to guiding you to some of the best mental health centers in California.