How Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy Helps Reduce Compulsive Behaviors
We use Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) techniques, which are based in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). While this outcome can be enhanced with the implementation of medications, we have found that many people benefit from therapy alone. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has two components. First, it helps to change thinking patterns (cognitions) that have prevented individuals from overcoming their fears. And second, the behavioral component helps individuals to slowly come in contact with their fears. This is done through Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) and is designed to systematically desensitize one to their fears. This treatment is exceptionally effective and produces remarkable results, allowing individuals to learn that they can successfully face their fears. Repeatedly facing one’s fears and learning to manage the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts associated with these fears allows the anxiety to gradually fade away. Situations in which the fears may have caused anxiety that was paralyzing can become manageable. The person learns he can choose to “flee” or “fight”, and what was once a “flight” response may become nothing more than an acknowledgment of the fear.
What is Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy?
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 make a choice not to do a compulsive behavior once the anxiety or obsessions have been triggered.
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.
Starting Exposure and Response Prevention therapy can be a difficult decision to make. It may feel like you are choosing to put yourself in danger. It is important to know that Exposure and Response Prevention changes your OCD and changes your brain. These changes can be observed through Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans whereby differences are demonstrated from the beginning of treatment (pre-exposure) when compared to the completion of treatment (post-exposure). This evidence-based treatment offers clients hope and inspiration for their future as it promotes life-changing results.
The bottom line is that in order to reduce your anxiety and your obsessions, you have to make a decision to stop the compulsive behaviors.