Exposure Therapy is a type of therapy that can be used in the treatment of some mental health conditions.

Like many other types of treatment, there are advantages and disadvantages to it, as we cover in this article.

Traumatic experiences can be treated by Exposure Therapy

What is Exposure Therapy?

Exposure Therapy: Exposure Therapy – also known as Desensitisation – is commonly used for cases that involve either traumas or phobias. This type of therapy involves an individual being gradually exposed to their fear/trauma. A therapist can help set up a program for this. Over time, the individual will gradually become accustomed to their problem – though this takes time. The eventual aim is to overcome the problem. Relaxation methods may also be taught as part of this therapy.

Advantages of Exposure Therapy

  • The evidence is good: Evidence suggests that Exposure Therapy helps many, many people find relief from their symptoms. Studies have consistently showed its effectiveness [1][2].
  • Can be used for multiple conditions: Exposure Therapy can be used across many conditions – including Post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders and phobias. As many of these conditions overlap, it can make Exposure Therapy a useful form of therapy.
  • The potential positives…: If Exposure Therapy works, it can result in a person not being held back by fear or trauma, resulting in them living a much calmer life.
  • Exposure Therapy teaches techniques: As part of Exposure Therapy, the patient is normally taught techniques that can help them in the future – such as deep breathing.
  • You can do it yourself: While it can be difficult, it is technically possible for you to do Exposure Therapy by yourself, such as using an online support group or a book. It is better to do it through official channels, but it is possible to do it alone if required.
  • A well-known therapy for therapists: Exposure Therapy is a form of therapy that is widely-used by many therapists, and is therefore known a lot. The chances are, that any therapist you see will have strong knowledge of this form of therapy.

Disadvantages of Exposure Therapy

  • Long-term therapy: Exposure Therapy is quite a long-term treatment, and is not done overnight. It is more time-consuming than other forms of therapy focused on trauma – such as eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing.
  • Difficult to work through traumas: It is very difficult for anyone to discuss distressing or traumatic moments, and to face these problems head on. But this is a necessity in Exposure Therapy, though if it works, it will be worthwhile!
  • Difficult to put into practice: In theory, Exposure Therapy seems simple. But it is actually difficult to be put int practice – especially when it involves physical treatment like meeting others. There is a big difference between thinking of doing something and then actually doing it.
  • Isn’t highly-intensive: For those with severe symptoms of PTSD or other conditions, they may not find that Exposure Therapy is intensive enough for their needs.
  • Not a one-size fits all approach: Unfortunately, not everyone will find Exposure Therapy useful. Some people won’t find any relief.
  • Short-term pain: Because sessions will involve going through traumas, it can actually increase short-term anxieties. But the aim is for long-term gain.

See Also


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[1] McNally, R. (2006). Mechanisms of exposure therapy: How neuroscience can improve psychological treatments for anxiety disorders. Clinical Psychology Review. 27 (6), p750-759.

[2] Chambless, D. L. & Ollendick, T. H. (2001). Empirically supported psychological interventions: Controversies and Evidence. Annual Review of Psychology. 52 (1): p685–716.