PerspectiveNeuroscience

Facing your fears

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Science  15 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6394, pp. 1186-1187
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau0035

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Summary

Remembering traumatic fearful events is adaptive. However, treating no-longer-threatening situations as dangerous may be maladaptive and lead to anxiety disorders, including phobias and posttraumatic stress disorder. Central to many forms of therapy designed to tackle these anxiety disorders is the idea that to overcome fear, one needs to face it. For instance, cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy allow patients to confront the objects or situations that provoke their anxiety in the controlled environment of the therapist's office. With repeated exposures, the patients' anxiety levels gradually decline, and the objects or situations that they once feared no longer trouble them. On page 1239 of this issue Khalaf et al. (1) provide a neural mechanism in mice for “facing one's fears.” These findings may inform the development of more effective forms of treatment for anxiety disorders.