Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET) is an evidence-based therapy that is highly effective when it comes to treating symptoms of trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), especially for those struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

Prolonged Exposure Therapy operates on the basis that confronting a traumatic event rather than avoiding it can help you reverse the cycle of avoidance that so often results following a trauma and better process the traumatic event.

The idea behind Prolonged Exposure Therapy is that more anxiety, anger, and distress arise from not dealing with a traumatic event. With repeated exposure through therapy to memories of the event and to things that trigger reminders, the feelings and thoughts that arise when being confronted can be processed and worked through, rather than stored and hidden.

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How Does Prolonged Exposure Therapy Work?

When you being Prolonged Exposure Therapy, you won’t immediately begin to examine your past experiences and traumas. You’ll be guided through the following steps of PET by a nurturing therapist who is trained in the principles of Prolonged Exposure Therapy and processing trauma and PTSD:

  • Education. You’ll start your Prolonged Exposure Therapy by learning about how the therapy itself works, as well as what types of resulting side effects you might expect.
  • Breathing. It may sound odd, but you really can re-learn how to breathe. Often when people experience extreme trauma, their breathing shifts and becomes shallow, which only adds to greater anxiety. Part of Prolonged Exposure Therapy is to learn to be aware of your breathing patterns when confronted with anxiety. While this is a short-term solution, it can potentially help deter a triggered event.
  • Real World, or In Vivo, exposure. Here, you’ll identify the things, places, people, and topics you have been avoiding in everyday life that, although they may be inherently non-threatening, remind you of your traumatic event. Once you know what they are, you slowly practice dealing with them by re-exposing yourself to them.
  • Discussion. Discussion of your thoughts and emotions surrounding the traumatic event, and of the very details of the event, with your therapist, is an integral part of Prolonged Exposure Therapy. Though often extremely challenging in the beginning, re-counting the memory becomes easier over time, especially in combination with the above three elements of PET.

What Is the Evidence Behind PET?

Research shows that Prolonged Exposure Therapy is an effective treatment that can diminish symptoms of PTSD and the anxiety that comes with traumatic events. A study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that although there are potentially negative side effects when you begin the treatment, ultimately Prolonged Exposure Therapy has a high rate of success in diminishing symptoms and leading to a more satisfying and functional life.

While Prolonged Exposure Therapy is used primarily in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it has also been shown to be effective in conditions that are commonly co-occurring with PTSD, such as anxiety, impulsivity, anger, and depression.

Studies have also found that, when used with Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Prolonged Exposure Therapy can successfully reduce PTSD symptoms for suicidal individuals with BPD.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy at Clearview Treatment Programs

Prolonged Exposure Therapy isn’t for everyone, and doesn’t work with every diagnosis. At Clearview, we take time to determine if PET will benefit you before pairing you with a therapist who is extensively trained in PET. If PET would be beneficial, you will be guided through the process of exploring your trauma in a safe and nurturing setting.

After experiencing a traumatic event, it may feel like you are alone, as if no one can possibly understand how much it feels like life can never be functional again. Prolonged Exposure Therapy offers you a chance to be healthy again, to take control and experience a sense of mastery over yourself and your perspective on everyday situations so that you can begin to cultivate the skills needed for your journey of healing.

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