Prolonged Exposure (PE) will teach you to face the painful thoughts, feelings and situations that you have been avoiding. Confronting what you are afraid of in a safe and supportive environment removes your triggers. In time, you may feel more capable and confident.

Parts of this therapy are like two other recommended therapies: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Trauma and Cognitive Therapy for PTSD.

Treatment

Repeated retelling of your trauma memory helps you process trauma-related emotions. It can also reveal information that helps you to understand your trauma differently and to identify tools for recovery. By gradually confronting the situations, people, places and things that you’ve avoided, you can learn to challenge your painful feelings and thoughts. You can live a fuller life, with less distress.

What to expect

In PE, the description of your trauma is recorded so you can listen to it at home. Retelling and listening to your trauma memory repeatedly helps you to process trauma-related emotions. This can also help you to understand your trauma differently. You and your service provider will identify the situations, places, people and things in your life that are actually safe but have become triggers – reminders of trauma – for you.

Your service provider will ask you to set a goal of something that you want to be able to do again, but that you avoid because it’s triggering. Once your goal is set, you and your service provider will break down the activity into manageable steps. You will start with the easiest step and practice it until you can do it with less distress. When you master that step, you move to the next one, and so on, until you have finished all the steps. In this way, you will re-learn that the situation, places, people and things that were triggering are now safe and manageable.

All of this teaches you that the trauma memory is a memory of the past – not an event of the present.

This is an individual therapy. Each session will involve meeting one-on-one with your service provider.

PE involves discussing your trauma, usually starting around the third session. Your service provider will guide you through this. They will pay close attention to your anxiety level and adjust their method if necessary to ensure your comfort.

Sessions are between 50 to 90 minutes. PE usually lasts eight to 15 weeks. Some people start to feel better after just a few sessions.

Your service provider will ask you to practice some of the things you have avoided since your trauma happened. You will start with activities that may make you feel only a little uncomfortable, working up to the most challenging activities. You will also be asked to listen to the recordings of the description of your trauma.

Talking about trauma-related memories and completing challenging activities can be uncomfortable. These feelings don’t last long.

Most people who complete PE find that the benefits outweigh the discomfort.