What is Prolonged Exposure (PE) Therapy? PE is designed to target key symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD during individual talk-therapy with a trained mental health professional. When a person is exposed to trauma or a situation where his or her life is in grave danger, part of the brain goes quiet and survival instincts take over. Not everyone develops PTSD after a trauma, but those who do often try to avoid the memories and reminders of the very worst day of their life, but even as they actively avoid those memories, they are haunted by re-experiencing symptoms where images and emotions appear in nightmares or when sounds or smells trigger memories of that dangerous time and it feels very much as if the dangers of the past are real right now. PE uses two main techniques to combat PTSD, in vivo and imaginal exposures. In vivo exposure allows the client to perform progressively and increasingly challenging tasks in homework assignments to build confidence and success in the real world. Imaginal exposure gives the client the opportunity to explore the feelings and beliefs that surrounded the trauma experience in a safe and structured session with a trusted therapist. PE is both a highly structured therapy, based upon empirically validated research findings, and flexible enough to be tailored to individual needs of specific clients. I, along with several of my colleagues on the mental health team with Easter Seals Greater Houston, have completed PE training with STRONG STAR, The South Texas Research Organizational Network Guiding Studies on Trauma and Resilience.
Prior to training with STRONG STAR, I was often unsure what I needed to do for my clients to help them recover from the lingering negative impact of the very worst day of their lives. I also believed that empirically validated treatments would be too rigid and not allow me to bring my own style and experience to my clients. While I do still fumble with the papers needed to measure symptoms, I find that collecting data each session has had the impact of de-mystifying PTSD and allows us (my client and myself) to keep a laser sharp focus on it, and in about 10 weeks were we are able to lessen the grip PTSD once had upon their lives. I am also impressed with how well PE was able to help my clients reduce PTSD symptoms and heal a deep hurt that occurred during military service to our country. Thankfully, I continue to have weekly consultation with world-class professional trainers of PE with STRONG STAR, so that I can ask questions and learn more about the versatility and power of this therapeutic protocol. Absolutely, PE is hard work for both the client and the therapist, but with the structure and research support to guide us, it can be profoundly helpful in restoring well-being and wellness.
The Mental Health Team with Easter Seals Greater Houston would like to offer Prolonged Exposure to more clients who experience PTSD, whether it be from sexual trauma, combat trauma, or natural disaster such as may occur in a portion of the population after Hurricane Harvey. 713.838-9050 x397 Harvey@eastersealshouston.org, Veterans 713.838.9050 x371
Amy Harkins, Ph.D.│Licensed Psychologist, Mental Health Program
Easter Seals Greater Houston, AHarkin@eastersealshouston.org