After a traumatic event, many individuals experience distress and symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This distress may be highest when dealing with memories, thoughts, feelings, and situations that are related to the trauma.
Exposure therapy is a type of therapy that helps you decrease distress about your trauma. This therapy works by helping you approach trauma-related thoughts, feelings, and situations that you have been avoiding due to the distress they cause. Repeated exposure to these thoughts, feelings, and situations helps reduce the power they have to cause distress.
Prolonged Exposure (PE) is one exposure therapy that works for many people who have experienced trauma. It has four main parts:
With the help of your therapist, you can change how you react to stressful memories. In PE, you work with your therapist to approach trauma-related situations and memories at a comfortable pace. Usually, you start with things that are less distressing and move towards things that are more distressing. A round of PE therapy most often involves meeting alone with a therapist for about 8 to 15 sessions. Most therapy sessions last 90 minutes.
With time and practice, you will be able to see that you can master stressful situations. The goal is that YOU, not your memories, can control what you do in your life and how you feel. Therapy helps you to get your life back after you have been through a trauma.
PE has been shown to be one of the most effective treatments for PTSD. For this reason, the VA's Office of Mental Health Services has rolled out a national PE training program. VA providers throughout the country will be trained in how to use PE treatment. The providers will at first be supervised as they use these treatments in actual cases. Then they will be asked to use PE in their routine clinical care. Others will be selected and trained as consultants.
See this video describing how In-Context Exposure Therapy Helps Bring Closure to Veterans.
Ask your VA healthcare provider about getting PE therapy. A list of VA facilities can be found online at: VA Facilities Locator.