Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE): A Highly Effective Treatment for PTSD

What is Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE)?

Prolonged Exposure (PE) is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that is highly effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PE works by helping people gradually approach and confront trauma-related memories, feelings, and situations that they have been avoiding. By practicing PE, people can learn to reduce their fear and anxiety associated with trauma and live more fulfilling, happier lives.

Prolonged Exposure (PE), Prolonged Exposure

How does PE work?

PE therapy typically involves two main components: imaginal exposure and in vivo exposure.

  • Imaginal exposure: Imaginal exposure involves repeatedly talking about or writing about the trauma memory in a safe and supportive environment. This type of exposure helps people to process the trauma memory and reduce its emotional impact.
  • In vivo exposure: In vivo exposure involves gradually approaching and confronting trauma-related situations in real life. This type of exposure helps people reduce their avoidance of trauma-related triggers and build their confidence in their ability to cope with these triggers.

What are the benefits of PE?

PE therapy has been shown to be very effective in treating PTSD. In fact, it is one of the most well-studied and effective treatments for PTSD available. Some of the benefits of PE therapy for those dealing with PTSD include:

  • Reduced symptoms of PTSD, such as flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance, and hypervigilance
  • Improved quality of life
  • Increased ability to function in relationships and at work

Who can benefit from PE therapy?

PE therapy can benefit anyone who is struggling with PTSD, regardless of the type of trauma they have experienced. PE therapy is particularly effective for people with chronic PTSD, as well as people with PTSD who have other mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety.

What to expect during PE therapy

PE therapy is typically conducted over 8-15 sessions, each lasting about 90 minutes. During the first few sessions, you will work with your therapist to develop a treatment plan and learn about the basics of PE therapy. Once you are ready, you will begin to engage in imaginal and in vivo exposure exercises.

Your therapist will work with you to develop a gradual exposure plan tailored to your individual needs and comfort level. You will start by exposing yourself to the least threatening trauma-related memories and situations. As you become more comfortable, you will gradually expose yourself to more challenging memories and situations.

group therapy

What are some common challenges of PE therapy?

PE therapy can be challenging at times, as it requires you to confront your trauma. However, it is important to remember that you are not alone in this process. Your therapist will be there to support you and guide you every step of the way.

Some common challenges of PE therapy include:

  • Experiencing discomfort and distress when talking about or thinking about the trauma
  • Avoiding exposure exercises
  • Experiencing setbacks, such as a temporary worsening of PTSD symptoms

How to overcome the challenges of PE therapy

It is important to remember that the challenges of PE therapy are temporary. As you progress through therapy, you will learn to manage your distress and cope with the traumatic memories and situations that you have been avoiding.

Here are some tips for overcoming the challenges of PE therapy:

  • Be honest with your therapist about how you are feeling.
  • Don’t be afraid to take breaks from exposure exercises if you need to.
  • Celebrate your successes, no matter how small they may seem.
  • Remember that you are not alone in this process. Your therapist is there to support you every step of the way.


Prolonged Exposure (PE) is a highly effective treatment for trauma-related mental health struggles and PTSD. It can help people reduce their fear and anxiety associated with trauma and learn to live life beyond the restrictions of trauma. If you are struggling with a past trauma, reach out to one of our therapists about PE today.