Accidents, shocks, trauma – these are unfortunate and unwanted, but not inevitable in our lives. We all go through suffering, but we still get through whatever bad has happened to us, and move forward.
There are, however, some unfortunate people in this world who have trouble coming back to reality after something traumatic has happened. While most people need some time adjust to trauma, the more sensitive people go through a psychiatric disorder after facing such an ordeal. This is PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It greatly impacts our quality of life and requires a psycho-therapeutic intervention for overcoming it.
Evidence is building up that PTSD victims greatly benefit from Exposure Therapy. We discuss both PTSD and its effective treatment using Exposure Therapy in this post.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Sometimes, people can’t cope with some inevitable negativities in their life. After losing someone, experiencing an accident or a terrorist attack, facing sexual, physical or mental abuse, natural disasters or a near-death experience, we tend to suffer from long time stress reactions. Instead of these reactions going away over time, as in normal for human nature, we find them increasing day-by-day. This is what Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is, where we suffer because we can’t let go of something negative that has happened to us, and keep on reminiscing our bad memories.
What happens in PTSD?
When we are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, we would always have trouble sleeping; in our mind, we would go over and over the incident that has changed our life forever. Anything slightly related to our own experience can bring back bad memories for us, leaving us feeling shaken and helpless. To feel better, we may completely start to avoid anything that can remind us of the incident, which can include going to certain locations or talking about particular topics. We will always be on alert, as if we are waiting for something to happen; each and every one of our thoughts will be negative and depressed.
Can Exposure Theory Work in Treating PTSD?
Exposure Therapy is a part of behavioural therapy that is used in treatment of some disorders, very recently PTSD. In this particular therapy, we would be exposed to the very thing we are trying to avoid because of our stress. For example, if we had lost someone in a car accident, in our state of PTSD, we would want to completely avoid contact with any kind of vehicles; in the same way, a person who was raped would probably stop going on dates and meeting new people completely because they are afraid of the consequences.
Exposure theory uses whatever memory or stimuli we are avoiding to treat us. Instead of trying to forget what happened to us or trying to avoid the same situation from happening again, those memories will be confronted again and again until we find ourselves able to talk about them normally.
In a one-on-one session of Exposure Therapy, the counsellor would inquire about the traumatic incident from us again and again, until we are able to confront them. If we become overwhelmed or restless, there are some breathing techniques that we can try which will help us relax.
The therapist will also talk about everything that we have been avoiding since the incident – places, people, thoughts, actions, etc. Exposure therapy comprises of 4 steps.
In Vivo Exposure
In the part of this therapy we learn to confront everything we have been avoiding so far, with the help of the therapist, or accompanied by them.
In this step we would be encouraged to imagine what we have been avoiding. This will help us later when we will be asked to directly confront what had traumatised us in the first place.
In Introspective Exposure, we face all the physical symptoms associated with our negative feelings. If every time we think of our negative experience, our heartbeats increase and we start to sweat – these are the physical attributes we will confront in this session.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy
The final session is of Prolonged Exposure Therapy, which is a combination of all the above-mentioned methods. Therapists will sit with us for 8 to 15 sessions, each lasting for 1.5 hours. These gatherings require a specially trained therapist who can handle all the individual sessions, one after another, to complete the therapy.
Over the years, many cases have proved that Exposure Therapy has been triumphant in treating patients suffering from severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Although this is a sensitive issue that a lot of people put up with, it is highly likely that correctly administrating Exposure Therapy can help more and more PTSD sufferers in the future.