Exposure Response Prevention

Exposure Response Prevention

What is Exposure and Response Prevention?

It is possible that you may have heard of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) before. CBT refers to a group of similar types of therapies used by mental health therapists for treating psychological disorders, with the most important type of CBT for OCD being Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).

The Exposure in ERP refers to exposing yourself to the thoughts, images, objects and situations that make you anxious and/or start your obsessions. While the Response Prevention part of ERP, refers to making a choice not to do a compulsive behavior once the anxiety or obsessions have been “triggered.” All of this is done under the guidance of a therapist at the beginning — though you will eventually learn to do your own ERP exercises to help manage your symptoms.

That said, this strategy of purposefully exposing yourself to things that make you anxious may not sound quite right to you. If you have OCD, you have probably tried to confront your obsessions and anxiety many times only to see your anxiety skyrocket. With ERP, the difference is that when you make the choice to confront your anxiety and obsessions you must also make a commitment to not give in and engage in the compulsive behavior. When you don’t do the compulsive behaviors, over time you will actually feel a drop in your anxiety level. This natural drop in anxiety that happens when you stay “exposed” and “prevent” the compulsive “response” is called habituation

How is ERP different from traditional talk therapy (psychotherapy)?

Traditional talk therapy (or psychotherapy) tries to improve a psychological condition by helping the patient gain “insight” into their problems. Talk therapy can be a very valuable treatment for some disorders, but it has not been shown to be effective at treating the active symptoms of OCD.

While talk therapy may be of benefit at some point in a OCD patient’s recovery, it is important to try ERP or medication first, as these are the types of treatment that have been shown through extensive research to be the most effective for treating OCD.

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