top of page

Exploring the Role of Occupational Therapy in Exposure Therapy for Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions, affecting millions of people worldwide. These disorders can significantly impact an individual's daily life, making even routine activities challenging to navigate. While there are various therapeutic approaches to managing anxiety, exposure therapy has gained prominence as an efficacious and effective treatment approach. What might surprise you is that occupational therapy can play a vital role in treating anxiety using exposure therapy.

Exposure therapy is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy designed to alleviate anxiety by safely exposing individuals to their feared situations or triggers in a controlled and gradual manner. The underlying principle is that repeated exposure allows individuals to confront their fears, learn that their anxieties are more manageable than originally thought, and develop supportive coping strategies.

Occupational therapy encompasses a holistic perspective that extends into all aspects of function. It focuses on enabling individuals to engage in meaningful activities and tasks that form the foundation of their daily lives. This holistic approach aligns well with exposure therapy, as it addresses not only the cognitive aspects of anxiety, but also the behavioral and emotional experiences of the person.

Occupational therapists excel in analyzing activities, breaking them down into manageable steps. This skill is essential in exposure therapy, where feared activities are deconstructed into incremental challenges. By doing so, the exposure process becomes more manageable, reducing overwhelming anxiety. Occupational therapists start by assisting individuals in identifying triggers that affect their daily functioning. This skill is crucial in exposure therapy, where pinpointing triggers helps create a targeted exposure plan. Occupational therapists next create graded intervention plans that help individuals progress step by step. This aligns with exposure therapy's approach of starting with less anxiety-inducing situations and gradually moving towards more anxiety-provoking ones. With guidance and support, the individual is able to gradually approach their trigger while learning how to accept their experience of anxiety, and experience decreased levels of anxiety over time.

Anxiety is an uncomfortable and often overwhelming sensation. Coping strategies are often incorporated into treatment in order to manage daily activities impacted by the experience of anxiety. When integrated into exposure therapy, these strategies provide individuals with tools to cope with heightened anxiety during exposure exercises. Exposure therapy sometimes involves engaging in activities that hold personal significance. Occupational therapists can help individuals reintegrate these activities into their lives, making the therapy even more effective and relevant. This might include work tasks, driving or social situations. As an example, imagine someone with social anxiety who fears public speaking. An occupational therapist might analyze the speaking activity, break it into manageable steps, and develop coping strategies for managing anxiety. They could also identify triggers related to the fear of judgment, typically an underlying element related to fear of public speaking. The therapist would then guide the individual through progressively challenging speaking scenarios while the individual applies coping techniques to manage and gradually decrease the experience of anxiety.

The partnership between occupational therapy and exposure therapy offers a comprehensive approach to managing anxiety. By leveraging the holistic perspective of occupational therapy and the systematic exposure techniques of exposure therapy, individuals can learn to navigate their anxiety in a supported and structured manner. This collaboration showcases the adaptability and interconnectedness of therapeutic approaches, ultimately aiding individuals in living more fulfilling lives.

Recent Posts

See All

Blue Light – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Many of us are aware that blue light exposure can impact our sleep. Many studies have clearly established the negative impact that blue light exposure at night has on melatonin release and sleep[1],[2

Too Many Open Tabs

The concept and cost of uncertainty is an idea that I’m continuing to explore with my clients. Areas of uncertainty can feel like having 42 tabs open with no concrete plan to look at them, but the awa


bottom of page