Facing Your Fears
Common sense seems to hold that we can best overcome fears by facing them head on. Admonitions like, “If you get bucked off, you got to get back up” encourage us not to give up due to fear. Recently, Jessica Cleveland and I presented a workshop to about forty other counselors on this specific topic. Mounds of research and years of clinical experience bear out the effectiveness and long-lasting benefits of facing fear through exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is any treatment that encourages systematic confrontation of the feared situation, thoughts, images or objects with the aim of reducing the fearful reaction.
The idea of facing our fears can make perfect sense when we sit in a nice office and talk about it. Most clients’ anxiety will spike a bit when considering the prospect of facing their fears, but they can usually calm themselves when talking about it in the planning stages. None of us really know how we will react until we actually come face-to-face with the things that make us afraid. This is true for counselors and other therapists as well and exactly the reason we put on this session for counselors. Counselors are taught the rationale and study the research behind exposure therapy, but the prospect of deliberately spiking an anxiety reaction in a client makes therapists a little anxious. After all, we got into this profession with the goal of reducing human suffering not making it worse.
Sometimes therapists need encouragement to face their fears, just as clients’ do. If we remember that the client remains in control of what they face, they will be less afraid and we can walk together toward freedom from the things that restrict enjoyment from the activities and relationships that make life meaningful.
David Barnhart, EdD
Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor