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How Exposure Therapy is Helping Gen Z

Health 411

December 09, 2022 | 5 Minute Read

Mental health is one of the most popular subjects between population today and specially between Gen Z. The popularity of this topic arose during Covid-19 when people were forced to stay at home, limited in what they could do outdoors and persuaded to spend more time on the Internet. According to many studies, the amount of time that some of Gen Z spends on social media is now considered to be a large factor of declining mental health. Generation Z is more vulnerable to mental illness than previous generations. On the other hand, they are fortunately most likely to seek mental health care, with 37% of Gen Zers reporting having worked with a mental health professional. The most current mental health problems that make Gen Z seek for the help of therapist are:

- Anxiety
- Unemployment  
- Climate change  
- Technology  

Studies also say that 90% of Gen Z has experienced psychological or physical symptoms as a result of stress in the last year, 70% of Gen Z say that anxiety and depression are significant problems among their peers and 25% of Gen Z report experiencing emotional distress.  As anxiety being one of the biggest factors, Gen Z and even the next generation, called Gen A, started to use a new method to treat this problem: Exposure Therapy, which is helping an estimated 4.4 children between 3-17 years.  

What Is Exposure Therapy?

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Exposure therapy is a psychological treatment that was developed to help people confront their fears. In this form of therapy, psychologists create a safe environment in which to “expose” individuals to the things they fear and avoid -for examples, crowded areas or social events. The exposure to the feared objects, activities or situations in a safe environment helps reduce fear and decrease avoidance. There are four types of exposure therapies:

In vivo exposure - It involves facing your fear in real life. For example, someone with arachnophobia may interact with a spider.

Imaginal exposure - A thing or situation is imagined vividly. For example, a person who’s afraid of birds might be asked to picture being on a beach filled with seagulls.  

Virtual reality exposure - Virtual reality technology may be used in situations when it’s difficult to experience the cause of fear in reality. For example, somebody with a fear of flying may use a flight simulator.

Interoceptive exposure - This type of exposure triggers a physical sensation to show that it’s harmless, even if it’s feared. For example, somebody who’s afraid of lightheadedness because they think it means they’re having a stroke may be instructed to stand up quickly.

By gradually exposing individuals to their fears in a safe and supportive environment, they can learn to better manage their reactions and eventually overcome the phobia or distress associated with it. This form of therapy is particularly useful for those who struggle with panic attacks, intrusive thoughts, or flashbacks from traumatic events. Additionally, exposure therapy can help people process difficult emotions associated with past events and learn to manage their responses better in the future. Here are some examples of mental illnesses that can be treated through exposure therapy:  

Exposure Therapy for Social Anxiety Where the treatment is based on a series of in vivo or imaginal exposures aimed at triggering increased anxiety. Usually, starts with items that create little anxiety and increasing to more feared items, the treatment gradually addresses distress. The therapist may prompt the client to spend increasing time out of the house, enter a store or speak to a stranger. This method of graded exposure therapy may be completed in a series of three to eight one-hour-long therapy sessions.

Exposure Therapy for Phobias  In this case, the method used by therapists is called In Flooding, what means the client begins their exposures with items high on their fear hierarchy. For example, rather than thinking about a mouse or looking at a picture of a mouse, the person will move into direct contact with a mouse. Due to the nature of flooding, the treatment can occur in less time. It is possible to address specific phobias in only one three-hour-long therapy session.

Exposure Therapy for PTSD Someone with PTSD from their time serving in the military may participate in a treatment protocol devised by the Department of Defense called Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET). VRET utilizes a headset to transport the person into a situation that mirrors the site of their trauma. VRET and other forms of exposure therapy for PTSD usually takes eight to 15 weekly sessions to create the desired effects. Each session lasts between one and 1.5 hours.

Additional Treatment Exposure therapy can also be used to help people develop new skills or behaviors that may reduce symptoms of mental illness. By gradually introducing new stimuli, individuals can gain a greater understanding of their specific triggers and work through them in an effort to reduce their overall levels of distress. Overall, exposure therapy is an effective method of treating mental illnesses and helping individuals learn how to better manage their emotions in the face of distress. Even with the people’s acknowledgment of the method, exposure therapy is hard to access in the United States, especially for families who doesn’t have a comfortable financial situation.  Exposure therapy generally costs between $50 and $150 per session with some providers or programs charging more. Fortunately, in the majority of cases, health insurance will fully cover these therapy sessions as they would any physical health treatment. To make sure your health insurance is able to cover exposure therapy, you can get in contact with AX Health and we will be happy to help with your questions.