Exposure therapy is underutilized across disability diagnoses despite empirical support for its efficacy. Extant research largely focuses on the perseverance of negative perceptions of professionals towards exposure therapy. There is currently no research indicating the perspectives of the next generation of psychology professionals: doctoral psychology students. Since the field of psychology has increasingly recognized the effectiveness of exposure therapy paired with research contradicting the legitimacy of negative beliefs in regard to exposure therapy it is reasonable to assume that students entering the psychology field during the current climate of increased acceptance towards exposure therapy would hold more positive views in regard to exposure therapy and be more willing to use and/or recommend exposure therapy to clients. By understanding the perspectives of psychology students towards exposure therapy and key determinants that lead to a student’s use or recommendation of exposure therapy, psychology professionals would be able to make predictions regarding the future of exposure therapy and the likelihood this evidence-based intervention will be more widely utilized in the future.
The current study surveyed 91 graduate psychology students across 185 graduate psychology programs in the United States to assess their attitudes towards exposure therapy. The research design was correlational and statistical analyses involved examining the degree of relationship between variables as well as significant differences between groups. The purpose of the study was to: (a) determine the relationship between student demographic factors (i.e. gender) and propensity towards negative beliefs in regard to exposure therapy, (b) determine the relationship between experience/training (i.e. level of training with ET, level of clinical experience, theoretical orientation) with exposure therapy and propensity towards negative beliefs in regard to exposure therapy, (c) determine the relationship between education (i.e. highest degree earned, current degree program, areas of psychology training, year in psychology program) and propensity towards negative beliefs in regard to exposure therapy, (d) determine the relationship between client demographics (i.e. age of client, client diagnosis) and the participants’ willingness to use and/or recommend exposure therapy, and (e) determine the relationship between the negative belief scale score, the positive belief scale score, and the participants’ willingness to use and/or recommend exposure therapy. The study also included qualitative data regarding the participants’ perspective on exposure therapy and evidence-based practices.
The results of the current study suggest that, while some negative beliefs about exposure therapy continue to persist despite contradictory research evidence, the next generation of psychologists generally hold less negative beliefs about exposure therapy and are more willing to use and/or recommend exposure therapy across client diagnoses. Furthermore, they hold more positive associations with exposure therapy. Based on the results of this study, the utilization rates of exposure therapy are likely to increase in the next few years as these graduate psychology students become practicing professionals.
This study provides support for the increasing acceptance of exposure therapy among psychology doctoral students. The research further indicates clinician and client characteristics associated with the students’ willingness to use and/or recommend exposure therapy.
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