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By contrast, some therapists have used flooding, in which the most difficult stimuli are addressed from the beginning of treatment (an older variant, implosive therapy, is not discussed in this article).
In clinical practice, these approaches appear equally effective; however, most patients and clinicians choose a graded approach because of the personal comfort level.
Exposures to external cues include a spider-phobic patient handling a spider, or a height-phobic patient systematically approaching increasing heights in a skyscraper.
Using exposure to internal cues, a patient with panic disorder can run in place to experience physiological sensations (eg, heart palpitations) that elicit anxious reactions, a patient with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can purposefully induce worry thoughts, a patient with PTSD can revisit traumatic memories, and a patient with OCD can intention-ally evoke intrusive and aversive thoughts.
Although it is well established that exposure-based therapies are effective treatments for these disorders, however, only a small percentage of patients are actually treated with this approach.
We review the results of a handful of the most influential studies that demonstrate the efficacy of exposure therapy and disseminate information about the theoretical mechanisms, practical applications, and empirical support for this treatment.
Exposure therapy is defined as any treatment that encourages the systematic confrontation of feared stimuli, with the aim of reducing a fearful reaction.
Over a quarter of the people in the US population will have an anxiety disorder sometime during their lifetime, and available research literature suggests that exposure-based therapies should be considered the first-line treatment for these disorders.
The aim of exposure therapy is to reduce the person’s fearful reaction to the stimulus.