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What is Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) affects nearly 1 out of 100 people within the United States. OCD is technically classified as an anxiety disorder among mental health diagnostic codes, due to the role that the anxiety and fear of a certain outcome plays in amplifying a person’s symptoms. The fear of what will happen if certain sets of specific behaviors are not carried through can have deep impacts on daily functioning. Some examples include hand washing, repetitive touching of clothing, or facial movements like blinking, to name just a few. Children are more difficult to diagnose with OCD due to the period of time needed to observe symptoms before a diagnosis can be made, but this is not to say children do not experience these symptoms and parents do not experience the challenge of parenting a child with OCD symptoms. 

What is ERP therapy? 

You may have heard of CBT therapy, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that has made breakthroughs in treating a number of anxiety and depression-related disorders over the past decades. CBT has become the leading evidence-based therapy within the field of psychology and relies on the power of using specific techniques to challenge and overcome negative thoughts related to feelings of depression and anxiety. One hallmark of CBT is to accept that we cannot always change distressing situations, but we have enormous impact over how we perceive the world around us. Since its inception, CBT has been sub-developed in several ways to incorporate elements of treating more specific human experiences, like trauma-informed CBT and mindfulness-focused CBT. 

Exposure and response prevention therapy is another form of CBT that has been identified to have positive outcomes on people struggling with OCD symptoms. The way ERP works is to begin with accepting that we cannot always remove the distressing situations in our lives. If we were to do this, we would be living in a fantasy world entirely under our control. Once we accept we may have to live with the distressing situation, ERP works toward bringing that distress into session gradually and in a supportive environment. ERP works to remove the routine behaviors that people engage in to avoid distress, like repeatedly washing hands. The distress of not washing hands becomes an important focus of therapy. 

The Goal of ERP Therapy

The goal of ERP is not to erase the distress, but rather to expose the client to the distress and work through the dysregulation this causes. Through repeating this process, the dysregulation response becomes the focus of the therapy. The therapist provides support, educates the client about dysregulation responses in the body, and provides coping skills. Through this, the goal becomes for the client to build a tolerance to distressing situations and the ability to cope with them on their own outside of sessions. 

Next steps

If you or your child is struggling with symptoms of OCD or anxiety, you are not alone and treatment is possible. Reach out here to find an ERP-trained therapist to begin OCD or anxiety treatment today. 

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Green Heart Therapy provides in-person psychotherapy for adults, teens, and children in Los Angeles and online therapy across California.