Efficacy and mechanisms of non-invasive brain stimulation to enhance exposure therapy: A review

Mia Nuñez*, Richard E. Zinbarg, Vijay A. Mittal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Though cognitive behavioral techniques are generally effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders, some people fail to benefit from exposure therapy or experience a return of fear after terminating exposure therapy. The burgeoning field of non-invasive brain stimulation provides a potential method of augmenting exposure therapy so that it is more effective. Successful exposure therapy is hypothesized to occur due to inhibition, and research suggests that brain stimulation can alter inhibitory learning and related processes. As such, one can reasonably posit that brain stimulation could be used to test the inhibitory learning theory of exposure therapy and to increase the efficacy of exposure therapy by inducing stronger inhibitory learning during exposures. Four known studies that pair brain stimulation with exposure therapy have yielded promising preliminary evidence in support of the therapeutic use of brain stimulation. In this review we describe research illustrating the mechanisms and efficacy of non-invasive brain stimulation to enhance the understanding of and outcomes produced by exposure therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)64-78
Number of pages15
JournalClinical Psychology Review
StatePublished - Jun 2019


  • Exposure therapy
  • Mechanisms of exposure
  • Retrieval inhibition
  • tDCS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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