Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE)
Prolonged exposure therapy (PE) is a form of behavior therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy designed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. It is characterized by two main treatment procedures – imaginal and in vivo exposures. Imaginal exposure is repeated ‘on-purpose’ retelling of the trauma memory. In vivo exposure is gradually confronting situations, places, and things that are reminders of the trauma or feel dangerous (despite being objectively safe). Additional procedures include processing of the trauma memory and breathing retraining. Prolonged exposure therapy was developed by Edna B Foa, Director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania. Prolonged exposure therapy (PE) is a theoretically based and highly effective treatment for chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and related depression, anxiety, and anger. PE falls under the category of “exposure-based therapy” and is supported by scientific studies which reflect its positive impact on patient symptoms.
Exposure-based therapies focus on confronting the harmless cues/triggers of trauma/stress in order to unpair them from the feelings of anxiety and stress. Prolonged exposure is a flexible therapy that can be modified to fit the needs of individual clients. It is specifically designed to help clients psychologically process traumatic events and reduce trauma-induced psychological disturbances. Prolonged exposure produces clinically significant improvement in 40-75% of patients with chronic PTSD, with the only reliable predictor of treatment outcomes being pre-treatment chronic PTSD symptom severity.