Do negative beliefs about exposure therapy cause its suboptimal delivery? An experimental investigation
Despite its effectiveness, exposure therapy is underutilized and frequently implemented in suboptimal fashion. Research has shown negative beliefs about exposure are related to its underutilization, and these beliefs are held by exposure therapists and may play a causal role in its suboptimal delivery. This study examined the effect of negative beliefs about exposure on treatment delivery. Participants (n= 53) received training in basic exposure implementation and were given additional information intended to elicit either positive or negative beliefs about the treatment's safety, tolerability, and ethicality prior to conducting an exposure session with a confederate client. Results indicated that participants with experimentally induced negative beliefs about exposure delivered the treatment more cautiously (e.g. creation of a less ambitious exposure hierarchy, selection of a less anxiety-provoking exposure task, attempts to minimize client anxiety during exposure) compared to participants with positive beliefs who pursued more ambitious delivery of exposure (e.g. encouraging clients' use of oppositional actions). The present findings suggest that therapist reservations about exposure cause suboptimal delivery and may adversely affect client outcomes.