Is Exposure Therapy Alone Enough to Treat Anxiety?

The Advisory Board recently reported that “The American College Health Association found the rate of undergraduates reporting ‘overwhelming anxiety’ increased from 50 percent in 2011 to 62 percent in 2016.”

Each year the Center for Success and Independence successfully treats many teens with anxiety, depression and other mood disorders. At the core of the Center’s therapeutic programming is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skills development. While research studies have found that exposure therapy is effective in treating anxiety, the Center has also found that teens must first be stabilized and actively using distress tolerance, emotion regulation skills, and mindfulness before they can be subjected to exposure therapy, also a component of DBT. It takes weeks of DBT skills development for most teens to be ready for exposure therapy. Current insurance plans often do not cover extended residential treatment, resulting in many teens not being ready for exposure therapy before they must be discharged from a therapeutic program. Thus, many teens need other forms of therapy to help them effectively cope with their anxiety disorder.

The Center effectively also uses other treatment modalities to augment DBT skills development. Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is a short-term (as short as 8 weeks) treatment model for children and teens with a history of trauma as well as other cognitive, behavioral and affective disorders such as anxiety. For some of our teens, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a good therapeutic option for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) treatment for youth who are unwilling or unable to initially engage in TF-CBT. Whether it includes DBT, TF-CBT, EMDR or a combination of these therapies, each treatment plan for a mood disorder must be tailored to the specific needs of a teen and their family.