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Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE) for PTSD

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Prolonged Exposure (PE) Therapy

Prolonged Exposure (PE) therapy is an evidence-based psychotherapy for PTSD. The therapy allows you to work through painful memories in a safe and supportive environment. It also allows you to participate in activities you have been avoiding because of the trauma.

In PE, the process of addressing the trauma memory is called “imaginal” exposure. The therapist works with you to change thoughts and feelings surrounding your trauma. The process of engaging with real life situations is called “in vivo” (“in real life”) exposure. This is where you and your therapist work together to identify activities that you have been avoiding due to the trauma. The goal of in vivo and imaginal exposure is to help you return to activities that you used to enjoy. This process helps to improve quality of life.

Individuals with many different types of trauma have experienced positive results with PE. This includes traumas related to combat, sexual assault, childhood abuse, natural disasters, and accidents. PE is most effective when you are committed and motivated to engage with all aspects of the treatment. This commitment involves attending all sessions and completing “homework assignments” between sessions.

PE typically lasts 8-15 sessions. The exact length of time is determined with your therapist. Each session is approximately 90 minutes in length. You and your therapist may meet once or twice per week.

Throughout treatment, you will learn about PTSD: its causes, symptoms, and the reasons you are continuing to have symptoms. During the second and third sessions, you will start the “in vivo” and “imaginal” exercises. These steps will begin a process of recovery and improving the quality of your life.

*This treatment may not be available at every VHA point of care. Please check with your VA provider.


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