When a patient has a phobia, one of the best ways to overcome it is through a type of treatment called exposure therapy. Exposure therapy involves patients being exposed to the thing or situation that they’re afraid of. By exposing them to it and making them face their fears, they slowly begin to be less afraid. This type of treatment can also be helpful with problems like anxiety, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. At the end of this course of treatment, most patients have little to no symptoms.
Despite the intensity of its name, the process of exposure therapy happens very slowly. The pace is completely controlled by the patient and their comfort level. For example, if a patient has a phobia of spiders, they aren’t immediately given a spider to hold in their hands. The therapist would start out small. They may ask the patient to simply imagine a spider. Once they are comfortable with that activity, they might move on to looking at pictures of spiders. While all these different types of exposure therapy are happening, the therapist is also teaching them skills to help them cope with any symptoms that come up. Another example of a type of exposure therapy is when a patient uses virtual reality to conquer their fears. Exposure therapy through virtual reality combines real-time computer graphics, body tracking devices, visual displays, and other sensory input devices. This type of exposure therapy has been tested on patients with fears of flying, heights, and veterans with PTSD from combat and shown to have greatly reduced their symptoms.