What Is Exposure Response Prevention for OCD Treatment?

Sapna Doshi, Ph.D. - 10th May 2023

What is Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Treatment for OCD? 

Exposure and Response Prevention treatment, or ERP for short, is the gold standard treatment approach for the treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. 

When I meet with a client who has been diagnosed with OCD, I like to talk to them about how their mind is often setting off false alarms to which they're responding to as if there were a true emergency. If you imagine someone telling you that they were going to be running standard fire drill testing at your workplace for the day, you might hear the fire drill, stay at your desk, and continue to work. Having OCD is similar to having all your coworkers staying put when the fire alarm goes off, and you're jumping out of your seat running to the fire escape route. It's possible that there is actually a fire, but if we move through the world where we try to prevent everything that has the potential to go wrong, we'd be exerting a lot of unnecessary energy. This is a lot of what clients who suffer from OCD experience. They end up missing out on meaningful experiences in their life in order to tend to their obsessions and compulsions. 

OCD can take many different forms, as reviewed on our website here. However, for the sake of this post, let's pretend we're dealing with someone who feels the need to check their electric appliances over and over again to make sure they are unplugged as to prevent a potential electrical fire. To not do that would require the client to sit with uncertainty: "Did I turn off the appliance or not? What if I didn't? A fire might start and I'll be responsible."

In exposure and response prevention treatment, we'd have this client work up to eventually leaving items plugged in, without checking them, and leaving the house with the items plugged in. Initially the client may experience severe levels of anxiety. But if we prevent the response of engaging in the checking compulsion while exposing the client to their fears, the mind builds more tolerance to uncertainty. When the energy typically invested in checking compulsions shifts back into living a meaningful life, the OCD symptoms become more like background noise. They're always there and ready to come back with full force, but with ongoing practice using ERP, the OCD symptoms can remain just that: background noise. 

OCD is a persistent, difficult mental illness that is hard to live with. At Mind Body Health, we feel confident that we can help our clients with exposure and response prevention treatment. ERP can transform lives such that our clients can begin feeling engaged with the more important things and people in their lives. 

Contact Us Today! We offer free 15 minute consultations to ensure that we're a good fit for your mental health needs. We offer in-person sessions in Washington, DC and Arlington, VA along with HIPAA compliant telehealth sessions in 30+ states.  

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