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Setting Goals with Exposure Therapy for Overcoming Phobias and Anxiety

Phobias and anxiety can be incredibly debilitating, making it difficult for individuals to live their lives to the fullest. Whether it's a fear of heights, public speaking, or social situations, these anxieties can hold us back from pursuing our goals and experiencing new things. Luckily, exposure therapy has emerged as a highly effective (Boehnlein, 2015) treatment option for overcoming phobias and anxiety.

Phobias and anxiety disorders are more common than you might think. They can stem from a variety of factors, including past traumas, learned behaviors (Wild, 2007), or even genetic predispositions (Van Houtem, 2013). The underlying fear associated with these conditions is often irrational and disproportionate to the actual threat present.

In this article, we will discuss an important method to overcome phobias and anxiety: Exposure Therapy, and we will talk about the goals to be set in the process.

What is Exposure Therapy?

Exposure therapy is a form of behavioral therapy that aims to help individuals confront and overcome their fears head-on. Instead of avoiding or running away from the things that trigger anxiety, exposure therapy encourages gradual and repeated exposure to these triggers. By facing their fears in a controlled and safe environment, individuals can learn that their anxieties are unfounded and that they have the power to overcome them (Sars, 2015).

More details can be found in the article: What is exposure therapy?

The Importance of Setting Goals:

Goal setting is a crucial aspect of any successful exposure therapy journey. Without clear goals in mind, it can be challenging to stay focused and motivated throughout the process. Setting goals provides a roadmap for progression, helping individuals break free from the confines of their anxieties and work towards a future filled with confidence and freedom.

Strategies for Goal Setting in Exposure Therapy:

1. Identify Specific and Measurable Goals:

Setting vague goals like "conquer my fear" won't get you far. Instead, identify specific fears or triggers that you want to overcome. For example, if you have a fear of public speaking, set a goal to deliver a presentation in front of a small group within a specific time frame.

2. Break Goals Down into Smaller Steps:

Overcoming anxieties can be overwhelming, so break your goals down into smaller, more achievable steps. For example, if your ultimate goal is to travel alone, start by taking short solo trips to nearby destinations to build your confidence.

3. Set Realistic and Achievable Goals:

While it's essential to challenge yourself, setting overly ambitious goals can lead to disappointment and frustration. Be realistic about your abilities and set goals that are within your reach. Gradually increase the difficulty as you build confidence.

4. Establish a Timeline for Completion:

Without a timeline, goals can linger indefinitely. Set a timeline for each goal to keep yourself accountable and motivated. This will also give you a sense of accomplishment as you reach each milestone along the way.

5. Track Progress and Adjust Goals as Needed:

Regularly track your progress by utilizing tools such as a Subjective Units of Distress Scale (SUDS). This will allow you to measure your anxiety levels before, during, and after exposure exercises. Adjust your goals as you progress, taking into account any changes or new insights you gain along the way.

Additional Tips for Effective Exposure Therapy:

1. Practice Self-Compassion and Patience:

Overcoming phobias and anxieties is a journey that takes time and patience. Be kind to yourself throughout the process and celebrate even the smallest victories. Remember, progress is progress, no matter how small.

2. Seek Support from Therapists or Support Groups:

Exposure therapy can be challenging, but you don't have to go through it alone. Seek support from a qualified therapist or join a support group where you can share your experiences and learn from others who are on a similar journey.

3. Celebrate Milestones and Achievements:

When you reach a significant milestone or achieve a goal, take the time to celebrate your accomplishments. Treat yourself to something special or share your success with loved ones. Celebrating these achievements will boost your motivation and keep you on track.

4. Stay Consistent and Dedicated to the Process:

Consistency is key when it comes to exposure therapy. Make a commitment to yourself to practice regularly and stick to your exposure exercises. Remember, the more you expose yourself to your fears, the faster you will progress.

5. Stay Mindful of Safety Measures and Self-Care:

It's crucial to prioritize safety and self-care throughout the exposure therapy process. If a particular exposure exercise feels too overwhelming or triggering, don't hesitate to take a step back and reassess. Your mental and emotional well-being should always come first.

Setting goals is an integral part of a successful exposure therapy journey. By identifying specific, measurable goals, breaking them down into smaller steps, and staying committed to the process, individuals can overcome their phobias and anxieties. Remember to practice self-compassion, seek support when needed, and celebrate your achievements along the way. With dedication and perseverance, exposure therapy can empower you to lead a life free from the constraints of fear and anxiety.

And there you have it, setting goals in exposure therapy is crucial for making progress and bidding farewell to those pesky phobias and anxiety. By identifying specific and measurable goals, breaking them down into smaller steps, and staying consistent and dedicated to the process, you'll be well on your way to conquering your fears. Remember, it's a journey, not a destination, so embrace the process and keep pushing forward.


  • Boehnlein, J., Altegoer, L., Muck, N. K., Roesmann, K., Redlich, R., Dannlowski, U., & Leehr, E. J. (2020). Factors influencing the success of exposure therapy for specific phobia: A systematic review.

  • Wild J, Hackmann A, Clark M. (2007). When the present visits the past: Updating traumatic memories in social phobia.

  • Sars, D., & van Minnen, A. (2015). On the use of exposure therapy in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

  • Van Houtem C.M.H.H., Laine M.L., Boomsma D.I., Ligthart L., van Wijk A.J., De Jongh A. (2013). A review and meta-analysis of the heritability of specific phobia subtypes and corresponding fears.

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