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What Is Exposure Therapy? Examples & Support

May 10, 2024

If you deal with fear and anxiety, it can be easy to feel discouraged and even helpless. Fear can be crippling, especially when you feel like you’re facing it alone. Exposure therapy is all about joining forces with a therapist to confront fear head-on — within a safe and controlled environment. 

When fear seems to rule your life and stop you from enjoying the things that used to bring you the most fulfillment, it’s the perfect time to get help and support. Working with an exposure therapist can help you break through the mental barrier that fear creates, bringing you into a place of confidence and freedom. 

Let’s discuss the basics of exposure therapy, including examples of how it’s used and how to decide whether it’s right for you. 

What Is Exposure Therapy?

Exposure therapy is an evidence-based mechanism created to help people face serious fears and anxieties. It’s related to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which addresses negative thoughts and beliefs that are holding a person back. 

One of the most widely used forms of this type of therapy is exposure and response prevention (ERP), which can help people who have been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

There’s also prolonged exposure therapy, which is designed for those who are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Successfully confronting something that causes extreme fear and discomfort is worth being proud of — and that sense of pride can change how you view yourself.

What Are the Benefits of Exposure Therapy?

Exposure therapy can change lives — it’s often a significant source of healing included in many types of treatment for people who were once crippled by fear or whose lives are limited by avoiding people, places, or things. It’s also hard work, making it a major confidence builder and source of accomplishment. 

Below is a brief rundown of some of the biggest benefits of this type of therapy:


Slowly but surely, exposure therapy sessions can help you address specific phobias and reduce the extreme discomfort that they cause. By gradually introducing you to increasing levels of your feared stimulus, a clinician can walk you through the process of systematic desensitization. 

During this process, your brain learns to compensate for your fears by regulating your fight-or-flight response to a feared object or situation. During a therapy session, you’ll face your fear on some level, then potentially increase the level of the exposure’s intensity during the next session. 

Through continued exposure, your brain can learn that the source of your fear isn’t a threat, which makes exposure therapy an extremely effective treatment in many cases.

Emotional Regulation and Processing

Conditions like generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder can cause extreme emotional dysregulation, making you feel absolutely awful at times. Dealing with the symptoms in the short term is hard enough, but they often linger for hours after a triggering experience. 

Over time, exposure therapy work can teach you to cope with your emotions in triggering situations through the use of relaxation techniques, affirmations, and other helpful tools. 

What Conditions Can Exposure Therapy Help?

Various kinds of exposure therapy are one of the most commonly used forms of psychotherapy for all of the following conditions:

  • Agoraphobia: An extreme fear of crowds and open spaces
  • Panic Disorder: Characterized by frequent panic attacks, often without a specific trigger
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder OCD: Characterized by intrusive, obsessive thoughts and compulsive urges
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Characterized by nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance, and extreme fear related to a traumatic experience 
  • Phobias: Exposure therapy can help with specific fears, such as the fear of flying, public speaking, spiders, elevators, and more.

While exposure treatment isn’t the only treatment option for the conditions listed above, it can be one of the most effective. 

What Are Some Types of Exposure Therapy?

There are multiple forms of exposure therapy, but all share several common factors: They all put you and your therapist in a safe environment and involve gradually increased levels of exposure to promote habituation to fears. 

Several of the most commonly used forms of exposure therapy are:

  • In Vivo (Real Life) Exposure
  • Imaginal Exposure
  • Interoceptive Exposure

In Vivo Exposure

This form of exposure involves confronting a feared situation in real life. During a session with your exposure therapist, you’d be introduced to a certain level of fear in a therapist-supported environment. From there, your therapist would help you navigate the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations that stem from exposure to your trigger. 

In vivo exposure can be extremely challenging, especially at first. The early stages of exposure treatment often involve imaginal exposure.

Imaginal Exposure

Exposure therapy doesn’t always involve real-life situations. In some cases, focusing on a fear-inducing scenario in your mind can be just as impactful. 

In this form of exposure therapy, your therapist will guide you through an exercise that brings triggering thoughts and images to mind. Then, your therapist will help you sit with the discomfort that your thoughts cause, reminding you that you’re safe and, with time and practice, can face the fear.

Interoceptive Exposure

Interoceptive exposure is uniquely challenging and takes a different approach to confronting your fears. This form of exposure therapy involves triggering the uncomfortable sensations that you might feel during a panic attack or a moment of intense fear — shortness of breath, racing heartbeat, blurry vision, dizziness, and other scary symptoms. If you struggle with panic disorder, interoceptive exposure can be especially helpful.

To do interoceptive exposure, your therapist might have you breathe heavily for several minutes until you feel lightheaded and a bit disoriented. While the feeling that this exercise brings on is definitely uncomfortable, it’s safe — which helps you remind yourself that you’re safe when you experience your next panic attack. 

Slowly but surely, this process can help your brain acclimate over time, which can make panic attacks much more manageable. 

How Can You Use Hero Journey Club as a Form of Exposure Therapy?

Our weekly support groups are led by professional guides within games like Minecraft, Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing, and more. 

These groups don’t involve formal exposure therapy, but they can help you work through difficult, uncomfortable thoughts and feelings in a safe environment where support is present. Meeting up each week to game, process, and grow can be a fantastic addition to your exposure therapy sessions.

When you join HJC, you get a new form of support that can make you more confident and resilient. It should not be considered a replacement for therapy — it’s a supplement to traditional therapy sessions. That makes it a valuable addition to your overall mental wellness toolbox.

How Can Support Groups Help With Exposure Therapy?

Taking part in a weekly support group with Hero Journey Club can make you a stronger person overall by giving you the encouragement and connection you need to succeed. Exposure can feel exhausting without support, but working through your experiences in a group makes all the difference.

In addition, playing games like Minecraft and Stardew Valley can be incredibly relaxing, grounding, and constructive. When you’re feeling anxious, gaming is often a healthy outlet that gives your mind something positive to focus on. When fear feels especially strong, turning to your in-game support group — which you can check in with throughout the week — can make you feel much better fast.

What Is the Research Behind Therapeutic Video Games?

There have, at times, been negative stigmas surrounding gaming, but current research tells us that playing games can be a healthy habit — especially within a supportive community. 

Our work at Hero Journey Club is backed up by dozens of peer-reviewed articles that highlight the positive impact of gaming and community on health. By bringing together games, mental health support, and community-building, we’ve created a unique experience that can play a unique role in your overall mental health journey. 

Is Hero Journey Club Right for Me?

Hero Journey Club is a perfect fit for you if you want extra support on top of an existing relationship with a therapist. If you struggle with anxiety or phobias, your therapist-led HJC group can help you feel heard, understood, and connected as you continue your process of recovery. 

97 percent of our members report feeling better after a session, and that extra boost each week goes a long way as you do the hard work of exposure therapy.

The Bottom Line

Exposure therapy takes time and energy, and it’s not an immediate fix for fear and anxiety. However, the research tells us that it’s one of the most effective ways to confront fear and free yourself from its grip.

If you’re dealing with crippling phobias, OCD, panic attacks, social anxiety, or PTSD, working with a professional exposure therapist truly can change your life. In addition, you can use weekly mental health support groups with Hero Journey Club as a valuable add-on to your treatment, keeping you connected to like-minded folks who know the struggle and want to grow with you.

Sign up for Hero Journey Club today and get started with your first session!


Gaming well: links between videogames and flourishing mental health | PMC

What Is Exposure Therapy? | APA

Why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Is the Current Gold Standard of Psychotherapy | PMC

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder | National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)