Prolonged Exposure Therapy

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) in combination with Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE) Therapy is the best practice approach to treating Psychological Injury, trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This dual approach of CPT and PE Therapy is a hallmark of our nationally recognized C-TAP Program (Concurrent Trauma and Addiction) that is offered in our three residential treatment facilities across Canada (Edgewood Treatment Centre in Nanaimo, BC, Bellwood Health Services in Toronto, ON and Clinique Nouveau Depart in Montreal, PQ).

Prolonged Exposure (PE) Therapy is an evidence based therapy that has been proven to be highly effective when it comes to treating symptoms of trauma and PTSD. PE Therapy is based on evidence that confronting, facing and being exposed to a traumatic event and its associated “triggers,” rather than avoiding them, will reverse the cycle of avoidance that so often results following a trauma.

The idea behind PE Therapy is that more anxiety, anger, distress and isolation arise from not dealing with a traumatic event than being exposed to it. With repeated exposure through therapy provided by an experienced and well trained clinician to memories of the traumatic event and to things that trigger reminders of the traumatic event, the feelings and thoughts that arise when being confronted can be processed and worked through, rather than suppressed and hidden.

How Does Prolonged Exposure Therapy Work?

PE Therapy is a careful, methodical process of helping clients with PTSD or Psychological trauma learn how to effectively manage their symptoms and improve the way they function in life. PE Therapy should be delivered only by well trained and experienced clinicians, typically with advanced degrees. Occupational Therapists are particularly adept in transferring these skills in the context of on-going patient assessment. When patients begin PE Therapy, they are supported through a number of steps before they examine past trauma. These steps include:

  1. Education: PE Therapy starts by teaching patients how the therapy itself works, as well as what types of resulting side effects they might expect.
  2. Breathing: Often when people experience extreme trauma, their breathing shifts and becomes shallow, which leads to increased anxiety which is often debilitating. Part of PE Therapy is to learn to be aware of your breathing patterns when faced with anxiety provoking situations. Re-training yourself how to breathe can help potentially deter a triggering event.
  3. In Vivo or real world exposure: Here, patients will identify the people, places and things, events or experiences they have been avoiding in everyday life. While many or most of these items do not present a real threat they remind the person of the traumatic event and become triggers. Once patients know what they are, they can slowly practice dealing with them by re-exposing themselves to them.
  4. Discussion. Discussion of the patients thoughts and emotions surrounding the traumatic event, and of the very details of the event, with their primary counselor is an integral part of PE Therapy. Though often extremely painful and frightening in the beginning, re-counting the memory becomes easier over time, especially in combination with the above three elements of PE Therapy.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy is Evidence based:

Research shows that Prolonged Exposure (PE) Therapy is an effective treatment that can diminish symptoms of PTSD and the anxiety that comes with experiencing traumatic events. A study funded by the National Institutes of Health in the United States found that PE Therapy has a high rate of success in diminishing symptoms of PTSD such as flashbacks and night terrors and leads to an overall improvement in life satisfaction and functional status.

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