This study examined 2 process variables, emotional engagement and habituation, and outcome of exposure therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder. Thirty-seven female assault victims received treatment that involved repeated imaginal reliving of their trauma, and rated their distress at 10-minute intervals. The average distress levels during each of 6 exposure sessions were submitted to a cluster analysis. Three distinct groups of clients with different patterns of distress were found: high initial engagement and gradual habituation between sessions, high initial engagement without habituation, and moderate initial engagement without habituation. Clients with the 1st distress pattern improved more in treatment than the other clients. The results are discussed within the framework of emotional processing theory, emphasizing the crucial role of emotional engagement and habituation in exposure therapy.
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