Do you know what ERP for OCD is? It’s a key treatment for OCD.
OCD, of course, is short for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. As many as three percent of the U.S. population is impacted by OCD. That’s 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 300 children. Even with this prevalence, the condition remains widely misunderstood. We causally label our neat roommate as “OCD.” If someone likes things to be orderly or dares to stock their bookshelf according to book size, they may be mocked as “a little OCD.”
In reality, this disorder can be debilitating. The obsessions are often intrusive thoughts and the compulsions may be life-altering. Fortunately, treatments like Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy exist.
An OCD Primer
Let’s briefly review the main OCD symptoms:
- Obsessions: These are intrusive thoughts and/or impulses. They often relate to worries about germs and contamination, socially inappropriate thoughts, fear of harm to oneself or others, of symmetry urges.
- Compulsions: A person with OCD needs to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsessions described above. To do this, create ritual behaviors in the hope that they cancel out the obsessions, e.g. counting, rearranging, checking on things, and cleanliness acts.
These symptoms combine to create a cycle. Such a cycle leaves a person with OCD very preoccupied with their obsessions. They might expend an incredible amount of time and energy trying to prevent feared outcomes. Not doing this leaves them open to new obsessions. For example, if they don’t take action, the intrusive thoughts will be about the shame of letting preventable harm occur.
As time passes, the behaviors believed to be needed to prevent negative outcomes become more and more elaborate. This interferes with everyday life and can produce new intrusive thoughts in the process.
How Does ERP Work?
ERP is a form of behavioral therapy. As the phrase “Exposure and Response Prevention” implies, the idea is to provoke the aforementioned obsessions within a safe setting. In this process, there are several factors at play:
- The goal is not to eliminate distress but instead to manage it
- Patients are safely triggered in the name of developing useful coping skills
- These skills can prevent the perceived need for the compulsions
- Hence, the obsessions become normalized but are not felt as overwhelming
- Someone with OCD can replace the compulsion with one of their new coping mechanisms
All of this is possible because ERP interrupts the associations that lie at the root of OCD.
What is ERP Therapy Like?
The goal is to help the client recognize that they do not need rituals to reduce anxiety. The fearful thoughts may occur but you no longer lose control in order to manage such thoughts. Without any danger present, the ERP therapist will expose the client to the type of thoughts that would typically trigger compulsions.
By staying in this state long enough, the anxiety decreases without resorting to rituals. Repetition of this practice teaches a client that they do not need compulsions in order to feel safe. Again, it’s not about the futile attempt to remove distress from anyone’s life.
Rather, since anxiety is inevitable, ERP helps retrain the brain to reflexively find productive coping mechanisms. When you do not avert the discomfort, you become more resourceful and resilient in addressing it.
Reach Out to Learn More About ERP for OCD
ERP for OCD sessions can be longer and more frequent than standard therapy. It’s hard work, but the rewards are well worth it. And no matter how hard ERP may feel, living with OCD is harder. I’ll safely assume you have questions, and I’m more than happy to address them. ERP is a powerful method for taking back control. I would love to help make that happen for you.
Let’s talk soon to get you started!