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Expert view: graded exposure

What is graded exposure and what does it look like in practice? Watch Dr Melissa Snaith explain more.

Graded exposure is, in brief is, a psychological technique developed to help people come face to face with their fears. It helps to break the kinds of vicious cycles we’ve been introduced to in this session (ie when fear leads to avoidance which subsequently results in increased fear).

Graded exposure provides the opportunity for patients to expose themselves to the things that they fear (and thus avoid) within a safe environment. The therapist’s role is to help support the patient and to encourage them to tolerate the thing they are frightened of. It is essential for there to be a high degree of trust and confidence between the therapist and patients before they start to use graded exposure.

Graded exposure as part of CBT has shown to be a helpful part of treatment for a range of anxiety problems, including specific phobias, panic disorder and social anxiety disorder.

Watch this video where CBT therapist Dr Melissa Snaith (Senior Clinical Tutor at the Charlie Waller institute), gives an overview of the rationale for graded exposure and how it has helped one of her patients. Try to think about the following:

  • What does ‘normal’ anxiety look like?

  • What do people with anxiety often expect will happen to their anxiety levels when confronted with the thing they are frightened of?

  • How does this compare with what we know about the ‘normal’ course of anxiety?

  • How does graded exposure help to educate a patient about their anxiety?

  • What does the ‘graded’ refer to in graded exposure?

In the next Step, we’ll learn more about the different ways in which graded exposure can be carried out.

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Understanding Anxiety, Depression and CBT

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