Prolonged Exposure May Be The Treatment Of Choice For Post - Traumatic Stress Disorder
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Prolonged Exposure May Be the Treatment Of Choice for Post   -   Traumatic Stress Disorder

Although many therapists are familiar with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - and although quite a few are trained in this therapy method - a lesser known option, and one that may be even more effective than Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a treatment approach known as "prolonged exposure."

The roots of prolonged exposure for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder go back more than 50 years to the Maudsley Hospital in London, which at the time was overflowing with patients suffering from panic disorder and agoraphobia, a severe anxiety disorder in which sufferers typically refuse to travel far from what they consider to be "safe zones" (such as home). After trying many therapy methods ranging from psychoanalysis to various other talk therapies and desensitization, all without luck, the Maudsley therapists and researchers eventually experimented with giving these patients practice facing their (the patients') fears (exposure). This led to the ground breaking exposure methods that proved to be effective for panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, and now PTSD.

The primary treatment component of Prolonged Exposure is an out loud description of the traumatic event by the patient to the therapist. Once the event has been described in full, the patient is asked to repeat the description several times. Typically the therapist will not stop any session until or unless the patient reports a significant improvement in a measure of subjective distress relative to the first description of the traumatic event.

Prolonged Exposure is perhaps the most well researched method for treating trauma and the one with the most promising clinical results published in the scientific literature to date.

Tested in clinical trials across the US, especially by researcher, Edna Foa, prolonged exposure is considered the treatment of choice for trauma victims (e.g., combat veterans and victims of rape) by many experts familiar with available research.

There are, however, some disadvantages of the procedure, which include:

1) It can be difficult to find a psychologist or licensed therapist who is adequately trained in this technique.

2) The therapy is emotionally taxing, especially at first, because "prolonged exposure" means repeated, lengthy self-descriptions of the traumatic event(s).

3) Approximately one third of patients do not receive adequate benefit from prolonged exposure therapy (although this compares favorably with EMDR and even more favorably when compared to general therapy).

More information on PTSD and its treatment may be found under the Resource tab here; in the Posts section here, and at the website of the American Psychological Association.


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