Want to Practice Exposure Therapy? Choose THIS Type!

This article will help you choose the right type of exposure therapy.

in this article, you’ll learn the two different types of exposure and pick the right one for you.

The good news? Exposure therapy isn’t as difficult as you might think.

Let me explain!

The Truth About Exposure Therapy

So, what is exposure therapy? According to Healthline, exposure therapy is willfully exposing yourself to your fears or phobias in order to overcome them. 

There is a part in your brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for your feelings of anxiety and fear. Every second of the day, the information that your senses perceive passes by the amygdala, who scans the information for danger.

For example: when you cross the road and suddenly a truck is coming towards you at rapid speed. Your heart rate instantly increases and you step back. This is your anxious response: the fight or flight response. Your thinking brain wasn’t involved in you stepping back. It was your amygdala that quickly scanned the sensory information and hijacked your brain.

In many cases, this is a great response, but for anxious people, this happens too often and without the presence of a real threat. 

Let’s say you had anxiety in the shopping mall or while driving. Your brain is always looking for the reasons why you are feeling anxious. Why? Because it believes you are somehow in danger. And when you are in danger it wants to make sure you avoid what is dangerous, in order for you to just be safe.

When the mind doesn’t know where the feelings of anxiety come from, it can link the anxiety to you driving or visiting the shopping mall. The next time you drive or visit the mall, anxiety rises, in order for you to avoid driving or going to the mall.

Your amygdala now associated “danger” to “mall” or “driving”. With exposure therapy, you willfully expose yourself to your fears or phobias in order to show your amygdala that the mall and driving are safe (or another trigger in your case!).

The following article clearly explains how to do it correctly.

Different Types of Exposure Therapy

There are a few different types of exposure therapy that you can choose to start exposing yourself to fears and phobias. 

Exposure Type #1: In Vivo Exposure

In vivo exposure means directly facing a specific trigger, situation or object in real life. This could be driving, going to the mall, putting a spider on your hand or going to a party if you have social anxiety. You willfully expose yourself to your trigger to show your amygdala you are safe. 

Exposure Type #2: Imaginal Exposure

Imaginal exposure is mostly used if it is not possible to practice in vivo exposure. This is often the case for people with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. This person might be asked to recall his or her traumatic experience to generate feelings of anxiety. When the person feels anxious the process is the same as for in vivo exposure: tolerating anxiety and showing their amygdala they are OK.

Exposure Type #3: Virtual Reality Exposure

Sometimes practising in vivo exposure and imaginal exposure is not the right type of exposure therapy. This could be if you have a fear of flying. In vivo exposure therapy would make it an expensive therapy, and imaginal exposure wouldn’t be as powerful. Therefore, Virtual Reality Exposure is used.

Exposure Type #4: Interoceptive Exposure

Interoceptive exposure is inducing the symptoms associated with the threat response, and practising being OK with them. Most people with panic disorders fear their physical sensations, like a racing heart. To help them associate safety with their sensations, they might be asked to run in place in order to make their heart speed up. Then they learn to be comfortable in their discomfort. 

Different Pacings of Exposure Therapy

Besides the four different types of exposure therapy, there are also two different pacings of exposure therapy: flooding and gradual exposure.

Let’s take a look!

Pacing #1: Flooding

The first pacing I want you to know is flooding. It’s the most intense form of exposure therapy, but often has the fastest results. Let’s say you are scared of doing the groceries for example. With the flooded approach you would practice exposure therapy by “just doing the groceries” and then experience the excessive anxiety.

You don’t avoid or escape, but do the groceries besides feeling anxious. You keep doing this weekly, until your anxiety decreases from a 10/10 to maybe a 5/10 or even lower.

But there is another approach…

Pacing #2: Gradual Exposure

The second pacing is the gradual exposure. This approach is less intense, but not less effective. It maybe takes a little longer to get results, but is as effective as the flooded one. Related to the example above, this time you wouldn’t immediately start doing groceries… but start with the least scary behaviour.

Is it driving to the mall? Or just paying a 3 minute visit?

You stay in the situation until your anxiety is decreased by half. Then you can leave the situation and practice it again… until you trained your amygdala to not be that anxious about the trigger anymore.

When you accomplished that, you go to the next “more scary” step, which could be buying 1 item. You repeat the process until you are able to expose yourself to your ultimate goal: doing the groceries.

What type of exposure therapy is best for me?

But what is the best exposure therapy for me? The best type of exposure therapy is first of all determined by what you want to overcome. If you have PTSD, you’ll benefit most from practising imaginal exposure, because sending you to a warzone or the traumatic event isn’t of course the best option. 

For most people “in vivo exposure” is the best option. Then the pacing is a matter of personal preference. If you are someone who believes he or she is capable of flooding, you can practice flooding. But if you want to take the less intense approach, you can practice gradual exposure.

But make sure you don’t practice exposure without understanding how to do it correctly, because otherwise, it can do more harm than good. You need to find someone who can help you with it, or learn how to do it the right way yourself. This article will help you with gaining a better understanding of how to do it correctly.

If you want to learn how to free yourself from anxiety, then watch my FREE Limited-Time training where I teach you the 3 biggest mistakes anxious people make and what to do instead.


You now gained a better understanding of the different types and pacings of exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is the fastest and best way to overcome your fear, phobia or anxiety. But always make sure you pick the type of exposure that is best for you. Practice it willfully and repeatedly in order to see faster results. 

If you want to take the next step in overcoming anxiety, then watch my FREE limited-time training down below.

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About Wouter

Wouter is a mindset coach from The Netherlands. For many years he suffered from depression and anxiety. It gave him the motivation to coach people on freeing themselves from anxiety. With more than 6000 blog visitors a month he helps many people on their journey towards less anxiety.

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