Although avoidance is a natural mechanism for coping with many kinds of pain or trauma it also serves to maintain a wide range of psychological problems. In the short term avoidance can lead to the (reinforcing) reward of a reduction in real or imagined anxiety - this is the motivator for its use as a coping strategy. In the long term, though, avoidance can act to prevent the disconfirmation of unhelpful beliefs. Further, the use of avoidance as a coping strategy can lead to further unintended negative consequences.

Exposure is the most common therapeutic strategy used to overcome avoidance. There are many varieties of exposure including: in-vivo, imaginal, graded, and interoceptive. Exposure often involves asking a client to face their worst fears, and clear case formulation / coneptualization is critically important in presenting a rationale for exposure.


The Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI) is an Australian mental health organisation that conducts research, provides training and supervision, and offers a clinical service. They have made some distress tolerance resources which can be helpful in overcoming avoidance.

Distress Intolerance

Self-help Programme

  1. Understanding distress intolerance
  2. Accepting distress
  3. Improving distress
  4. Tolerating distress