How does Prolonged Exposure Therapy work?

Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE) is an evidenced-based short-term therapy that has been proven to effectively reduce the symptoms of PTSD. PE therapy has four main components:

  • Education. PE starts with education about the treatment and common reactions to trauma.
  • Breathing retraining is a way of learning to breathe to calm the mind and body.
  • In-vivo exposure. Real life practice of exposure to trauma related situations that one may be avoiding, but which are inherently safe.
  • Imaginal exposure is the repeated exposure to the trauma related memories, conducted during individual PE therapy sessions.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy is typically conducted in 90-minute individual therapy sessions. Typical PE can be completed in 8-15 sessions.

History of Prolonged Exposure

PE was developed by Edna Foa, PhD, Director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety. Numerous well-controlled studies have shown that PE significantly reduces the symptoms of PTSD, depression, anger, and anxiety in trauma survivors. Practitioners throughout the United States and many foreign countries currently use PE to successfully treat survivors of varied traumas including rape, assault, child abuse, combat, motor vehicle accidents and disasters. PE has been beneficial for those suffering from co-occurring PTSD and substance abuse when combined with substance abuse treatment.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE) is a treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) designed to treat the avoidance of trauma-related situations, trauma-related thoughts and images, and the unhelpful cognitions that are formed as a result of the traumatic experience. To learn more about Edna Foa, read this article on, which ranked Edna Foa as one of the most influential people of 2010.

Over years of testing and development, PE has evolved into an adaptable program of intervention to address the needs of varied trauma survivors. In addition to reducing symptoms of PTSD, PE instills confidence and a sense of mastery, improves various aspects of daily functioning, increases client’s ability to cope with courage rather than fearfulness when facing stress, and improves their ability to discriminate safe and unsafe situations.

Contact Rachel Rippel MA, LP if you have more questions about PE and to schedule a Prolonged Exposure Appointment 952-223-1300