In today’s blog, Dr. Alex Young, Mountain Valley’s Director of Clinical Outreach, writes about Interoceptive Exposure.

Mountain Valley is currently under construction and, like everything at Mountain Valley, we are building with Exposure Therapy in mind.

Unhelpful beliefs about body sensations are common issues amongst residents at Mountain Valley.  Often, our residents feel their normal body sensations are warning them of danger–danger they might be getting sick, something bad might happen, or that they might draw negative attention to themselves. These unhelpful and often inaccurate beliefs about body sensations play a monumental role in maintaining anxiety. Biased beliefs often result in biased behavior, with the most typical biased behavior being avoidance. Our residents are very good at avoiding the things that make them uncomfortable. This avoidance makes sense–nobody wants to purposefully do something they think will be uncomfortable or embarrassing. However, even though avoidance works in the short term, the biased thinking that drives the avoidance tends to grow and spread into all aspects of life. Eventually, life becomes more about avoiding than participating and life gets very limited.

At Mountain Valley, we help our residents systematically re-engage with these threatening body sensations and test out their biased beliefs. This is a therapeutic process known as Interoceptive Exposure. Interoceptive exposures target typical body sensations such as shortness of breath, increased heart rate, dizziness, lightheadedness, etc. In order to stimulate these sensations, we have our residents engage in activities such as breathing through cocktail straws, sprinting for short distances, spinning around in chairs, and holding their breath. It is with this type of exposure in mind that we have designed a new building on the Mountain Valley campus. Set to be finished in mid-2017, our retrofitted exposure barn will include balance beams, tire swings, and other recreational space to help our therapists and exposure specialists facilitate these types of exposures in a safe and fun atmosphere.