Department of Psychiatry
Penn Behavioral Health

Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety

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About Prolonged Exposure Therapy

Chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an often complex and challenging disorder for clinicians to treat. With a lifetime prevalence of 8% in the population, and in the aftermath of recent terrorist events in the US, it is likely that clinicians will continue to see a sizable number of clients with PTSD and other trauma-related pathology.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE) is...

  • a theoretically-based and highly efficacious treatment for chronic PTSD and related depression, anxiety, and anger
  • empirically validated with more than 20 years of research supporting its use
  • based on basic cognitive-behavioral principals
  • a flexible therapy that can be modified to fit the needs of individual clients
  • specifically designed to help clients process traumatic events and reduce trauma-induced psychological disturbances.
  • A treatment that produces clinically significant improvement in about 80% of patients with chronic PTSD

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.

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.

In 2001, Prolonged Exposure for PTSD received an Exemplary Substance Abuse Prevention Program Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). PE was selected by SAMHSA and the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention as a Model Program for national dissemination.