Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy teaches clients with unusual fears and phobias that the best way to overcome their anxieties is through exposure to the situations that they fear. The original technique was to show clients relaxation techniques that they could utilize to make fearful situations more tolerable and then overcome the natural reluctance to experiencing the associated anxiety. By placing themselves in the fear producing situation often enough, the client learns that the thing they fear will not overwhelm them, the consequences they fear do not actually occur, and that their fears become more manageable or dissipate altogether.
New research is showing that there may be a more effective technique.
The problem with the original technique is that to become used to the fear producing situation, a client must experience the situation often enough, long enough, and with sufficient intensity to learn to tolerate the situation, without anxiety. A client that is relaxed may not experience enough displeasure to fully habituate to the experience. Their brain doesn’t re-learn how to tolerate the fear producing situation.
The new approach with clients is to change their basic orientation toward their fear producing situations. Instead of teaching them to avoid feeling anxious, the protocol asks them to not only try to get anxious, but to WANT to get anxious. They learn to not tolerate their discomfort, but to desire that the discomfort stay long enough for them to learn a new way of experiencing the situation. Clients are taught how to be excited when they notice they feel apprehensive and uncertain in fear producing situations. This strategy teaches them to confront their old mind set that anxiety is bad and should be avoided or stopped as soon as is possible.
Research is showing that this approach is effective in helping clients quickly learn how not to feel afraid, rather than simply learning how to tolerate and/or manage their fears.
Dr. Gnap is a family practice physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago. Dr. Gnap developed the Inner Control™ Program in 1970 and has worked with thousands of people to improve and correct medical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems including performance. He started the Inner Control program because so many patients asked, “what more can be done along with traditional treatment methods?”