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What is Exposure Therapy?

People with anxiety often invest tremendous energy trying to avoid their fears. While understandable, this avoidance limits their quality of life and ability to achieve their goals.

That’s where exposure therapy comes in. Exposure therapy is an evidence-based protocol for helping clients face their fears in a gradual, methodical way. This intervention is used for numerous conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among others.

While undeniably effective, exposure therapy can be intimidating from the client’s perspective. Imagine being told that you will have to confront situations or scenarios you have been avoiding at all costs, perhaps for years. Our What is Exposure Therapy? handout is an accessible and informative overview that eases clients into the idea of exposure therapy and what it entails.

This info sheet emphasizes the safety of exposure therapy and reassures clients that a professional will guide them every step of the way. The handout also describes how exposure therapy works, some of the conditions it treats, and the therapeutic journey of three typical clients, including sample exposure hierarchies.

Use this psychoeducational resource to introduce clients, parents, guardians, family members, colleagues, and other interested parties to exposure therapy. The handout can help build trust and rapport with clients before beginning this challenging, but potentially liberating intervention.

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1. Foa, E. B., Yadin, E., & Lichner, T. K. (2012). Exposure and response (ritual) prevention for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Therapist guide (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press.

2. Gillihan, S. J., Williams, M. T., Malcoun, E., Yadin, E., & Foa, E. B. (2012). Common pitfalls in exposure and response prevention (EX/RP) for OCD. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive & Related Disorders, 1(4), 251–257.

3. Hyman, B. M., & Pedrick, C. (2010). The OCD workbook: Your guide to breaking free from obsessive-compulsive disorder (3rd ed.). New Harbinger Publications.

4. Kaplan, J. S., & Tolin, D. F. (2011, September 6). Exposure therapy for anxiety disorders. Psychiatric Times, 28(9), 33–37. Retrieved from

5. Steketee, G. S. (1993). Treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Guilford Press.

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