International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

ISTSS Online Learning Library


Promoting the advancement and exchange of knowledge about traumatic stress is a core mission of ISTSS. Our online learning library contains video and audio recordings of conference presentations and recordings of past webinars.

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Using Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET) to Emotionally Process Traumatic Memories

David Riggs, PhD
Recorded in 2009
1.5 credits
ConferenceVideoEligible for the Advanced Training Certificate Program

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Though many individuals who experience trauma such as war, terror attacks, violence and disaster will recover, those who suffer with post traumatic stress disorder may struggle for years and still be unable to regain a sense of normalcy in their lives. Prolonged Exposure therapy (PE) is one of the most effective and extensively researched approaches to treating PTSD and other trauma-related disorders. PE has been shown to be an effective treatment for PTSD arising from a wide variety of traumas and in individuals with varied and complex presentations including patients with multiple traumas and in individuals with varied and complex presentations including patients with multiple trauma exposures (e.g., chronic abuse, combat, etc.), extremely chronic PTSD, multiple comorbidities, and significant Axis II pathology.
Despite these findings, PE remains misunderstood by many clinicians who see it as unduly harsh, inflexible, and potentially harmful. PE treatment focuses on helping the client to overcome the natural tendency to avoid distressing situations and memories and to emotionally process the event. Through structured imaginal and in vivo exposure exercises, the therapist and the client work together to approach previously avoided material and to emotional reactions. By clinical case example, the workshop will illustrate the flexible application of the core components of PE and explore case formulation for treatment.

Learning Objectives

  • Explain the Structure of the Trauma Memory.
  • Identify the Main Components of Prolonged Exposure Therapy for PTSD.
  • Summarize how to Present Clients with the Rationale for the Various Components of Prolonged Exposure Including In Vivo and Imaginal Exposure.

About the Instructor

Dr. David Riggs is the executive director of the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) and director of the training and education directorate of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Dr. Riggs also holds an appointment as a research associate professor of psychology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. He received his PhD from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Dr. Riggs has spent much of his career treating and studying anxiety disorders with an emphasis on PTSD as a clinical research psychologist at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania and the National Center for PTSD at the Boston VA Medical Center. In his current position, Dr. Riggs heads a program that aims to train mental health professionals to effectively care for military service members and their families dealing with the stress of combat deployments. These efforts include the dissemination of evidence-based treatments for PTSD, anxiety, depression and other stress-related problems.