How does PE therapy work? According to Dr. Paula P. Schnurr, a Veterans Administration doctor, PE therapy works “by repetitively going through the traumatic material, feeling the feelings again, thinking the thoughts again . . . learning that it’s no longer as frightening as it once was and that it’s no longer dangerous.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also reports that PE therapy “reduces PTSD symptoms including intrusive thoughts, intense emotional distress, nightmares and flashbacks, avoidance, emotional numbing and loss of interest, sleep disturbance, concentration impairment, irritability and anger, hyper vigilance, and excessive startle response.”
In the controlled study of female veterans suffering from PTSD, the women received either prolonged exposure or present-centered therapy for ten weeks. Not only did the PE group experience a greater reduction of symptoms, they were twice as likely to have a total remission as those receiving present-centered therapy.
One cautionary note about PE treatment is discussed in the online Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders: “Some patients may find that the level of anxiety that occurs during treatment sessions is higher than they can handle. Some studies of exposure treatment have reported a high dropout rate, perhaps because the method itself produces anxiety.” They also point out that the treatment does not work for everyone.
If you suffer from PTSD and have not found relief with your current therapy, you might ask your therapist about the possibility of trying prolonged exposure (PE) therapy.