Let’s say you really want a dog but you are afraid of dogs. Every time you see a dog, you become anxious and move away from the dog. This lowers your dog anxiety but doesn’t help you tolerate a dog or better yet, get over your fear of dogs.
So what do you do?
Over a quarter of people in the U.S. population will have an anxiety disorder sometime in their lifetime.
One of the most effective treatments for anxiety is exposure based therapies and yet, a small percentage of patients are treated with these interventions.
Exposure treatments systematically expose a person to a feared stimuli, with the idea that the confrontation will end in a reduction of anxiety. So for example, a therapist would expose you to a dog, work on the anxiety that comes up, and gradually help you lessen your anxiety around dogs so that you could eventually get a dog.
Exposure helps reduce anxiety that is out of proportion to the actual experience. You confront your fears by going into situations that cause you anxiety. Anxiety does increase momentarily, but when the feared consequences don’t happen, your brain calms down. When you do this over and over, your anxiety gets less and less.
Because these procedures make people temporarily uncomfortable, some therapists don’t like to use them. But the discomfort is short lived and ends in a lowering of anxiety.
And because success often depends on field trips in the real world out of the therapist’s office, boundaries and confidentiality could be compromised. But a trained therapist knows to tell her client this, explain and predict what could happen, e.g., you might see someone you know, we will travel in your car together which is not something we normally do but need to do in order to do the procedure, etc. This is called informed consent and you have control over proceeding or stopping at any point.
Exposure treatments used by competent and trained therapist can alleviate anxiety. More people could benefit from this type of approach.
So if you struggle with anxiety and fear, you may want to look for someone who knows how to apply exposure therapies to your problem. Facing your fear with someone who can walk you through it is not only a therapeutic idea, but a biblical one as well. God promises His presence when we feel anxious. His constant presence reassures us we are not alone, He works on our behalf and calms our fears so we can face whatever comes our way with the confidence that He is with us and working for our good.