Prolonged Exposure for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
What is Prolonged Exposure?
Prolonged exposure (PE) therapy is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy developed to treat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is a short-term treatment, designed to be completed in less than 15 sessions, where sessions are 90 minutes each.
Research has found that Prolonged Exposure can lead to a major improvement in people suffering from PTSD.
Prolonged exposure was developed by internationally recognized expert, Dr. Edna Foa, and colleagues at the University of
Pennsylvania. It helps people overcome their trauma-related anxiety by gradually confronting fears head-on. The treatment has four critical elements:
Education on the therapy: The client is educated on common trauma reactions and PTSD.
This process helps them understand their symptoms and the overall goals of their treatment.
Breathing techniques: Often when trauma occurs or someone with PTSD is reliving the
trauma, their breathing pattern and speed changes. Learning to control the way their breathing can
help clients relieve the immediate stress, lessening its impact.
Real-world application: In many cases, PTSD sufferers will avoid doing things that may
be linked to their trauma, for example someone who has been in a car accident may not
want to drive, or someone who has experienced sexual assault may avoid
intimacy with another person. Real world therapy helps them to confront the anxiety in a safe way that
has no risk of further trauma. Over time this helps reduce the stress and helps them regain control.
Talking through the trauma: This part of the process is talking about the trauma over
and over with a therapist, which helps the person with PTSD gain control over the thoughts and feelings
associated with the event. This has been the show to reduce stress and eliminate the fear of the
memories of the traumatic event.
Does Prolonged Exposure Therapy Work?
Prolonged Exposure has been shown to be the most effective treatment for PTSD over medication and
other forms of therapy. One of the advantages to PE is that it can be adapted to an individual's therapy
needs and in the hands of a trained therapist can instill confidence in the sufferer that they can again
mastery over their PTSD. It has been shown to improve 80% of PTSD patients that have suffered any number of
traumas, including combat, sexual assault, accidents, natural disasters and child abuse, among others. PE
is a short-term treatment, with most people showing improvment or recovery after just 10-15
It has been developed, studied and modified for over twenty years and the U.S. Department of Veterans
Affairs has adopted it as one of their measures to help returning soldiers from combat situations deal with
PTSD, an increasing need as soldiers are returned from overseas and re-integrated into society. This can be
a difficult process for men and women that have spent months, even years, in high-intensity constant state
of alert situations that occur in combat.