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JoeMurphy Oct 12, 2020

Using Exposure Therapy with Children

As children, most of us were scared of something or something provoked anxiety within us. Children might be afraid of many things during their childhood such as a specific object or situation. Some may be afraid of the dark—or snakes because some are poisonous. Others may be afraid of water because they cannot swim yet, or afraid of certain situations like being separated from their parents on the first few days of school.

There are several therapies that can help children minimize, or even rid, their fears. Some counselors use CBT alone, CBT with exposure, or exposure therapy alone to help children manage their anxiety with phobias.

How Does Exposure Therapy Work?

Exposure therapy focuses on changing your response to the object or situation that is causing your anxiety. Gradually repeating exposure to the source that causing fear may help a child manage his or her thoughts and feelings about what is making him or her anxious.

For example, if the child is afraid of being separated from the parent on the first day of school, the parent could walk the child to the front door of the school the first few days. Then the second week, stand outside the car, or roll the window down and watch their child walk to the front door without the child crying for his or her parent.

Hopefully, by the third week, the parent can drop the child off and drive off as the child walks calmly to the front door of the school without any—or less—anxiety. Of course, we all know that the success of this therapy may occur at different times with various children who experience this fear of being separated by their parent.

Exposure Therapy Helps Manage Other Disorders

Exposure therapy can help children with other anxiety problems too. It can help with specific phobias, OCD, social anxiety, traumatic stress, extreme worrying, and even anger issues. Many of us know that therapy can only successfully work if the client wants to manage or rid what is causing his or her anxiety. This is the case with any therapy and any client of any age. We can give a child the tools to help manage his or her anxiety, but it can only help if the child is willing to use those tools.

Joe Murphy, Jr is a multilingual certified school counselor (English, Spanish, and some French) working as an elementary counselor in Hattiesburg Public School District, Mississippi. He has three years of high school counseling experience and at least thirteen years of teaching experience. His counseling interest areas include academic, career, multicultural, mental health, substance abuse, sports counseling, family, migrant youth, and LGBTQ youth issues.

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