Listen to “#5: Treatments for PTSD 2: Prolonged Exposure” on Spreaker.
In this episode of PTSD Bytes, host and clinical psychologist Pearl McGee-Vincent from the VA National Center for PTSD talks about prolonged exposure with Dr. Carmen McLean. Prolonged exposure is one of the most effective evidence-based treatments for PTSD that can help people lead fuller lives.
What is prolonged exposure?
Prolonged exposure, or “PE,” is a trauma-focused psychotherapy that teaches you to gradually approach memories and situations associated with the trauma. There are two types of exposure in this treatment: one is “imaginal” which involves telling your therapist about your memories of the trauma. The other is “in vivo,” which involves actually facing people, places and things you may have been avoiding since the trauma.
Why try prolonged exposure?
While facing memories or situations associated with trauma may not sound appealing, avoidance can keep people stuck in PTSD. PE is about finding ways to deal with distress caused by trauma triggers you may experience in life. By doing this gradually and repeatedly with the support of your therapist, you can decrease the amount of distress you experience and start to live a fuller life.
A common fear about PE is that PTSD symptoms will worsen at first but research shows this only happens in a minority of cases. And even in those cases, people still experience the benefits of this treatment. In fact, prolonged exposure has been shown to be one of the most effective treatments for PTSD.
If you are interested in prolonged exposure treatment and enrolled in VA care, you already have access to it. You can ask any of your providers for a referral. If you are not enrolled in VA care, there are also prolonged exposure providers in the community.
A good place to start is by looking through therapist directories from professional organizations, such as the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) or the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA).
Once in treatment, the mobile app PE Coach is a useful tool that can support the work you are doing with your PE therapist, whether in-person or via telehealth.
If you are a Veteran who is experiencing a crisis or supporting a loved one who is, call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 for immediate assistance, or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/chat.