Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is one of the most researched and effective treatments for anxiety-related disorders, including Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Phobias, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). ERP is based on the premise that by facing the fear (exposure) you will learn that you can handle the discomfort without engaging in the unhelpful coping strategies (response prevention) that include compulsions/rituals and avoidance.
When it comes to thoughts, situations, or activities that cause anxiety or fear, it is common for people to avoid them. It makes sense that we avoid; after all, who wants to feel uncomfortable?! This avoidance will temporarily reduce anxiety, but ONLY in the short term. In the long term, avoidance strengthens anxiety, and it often leads to anxiety and fear spreading to other situations. This avoidance can lead to new fears, anxieties and avoidance. This is where ERP comes in: learning to face your fears and practicing in real-life situations re-teaches your brain that you can handle the discomfort and fear. This leads to decreased anxiety symptoms, and over time these symptoms can eventually become nothing more than a nuisance.
At The OCD and Anxiety Center, all of our specialists are trained in Exposure and Response Prevention. At the beginning of treatment, individuals are taught about anxiety and strategies to identify anxious and feared self-talk. This is where the talking ends and the doing begins. We find that individuals make more progress in treatment when they practice new behaviors, rather than just talking about it. Individuals work to identify and create a list or hierarchy of anxiety- or fear-provoking situations/thoughts/images, and work step by step to overcome them. Often times we overestimate the discomfort when it comes to anxiety-evoking stimuli. Exposure therapy helps adjust the view from “certainty of disaster” to “manageable discomfort”.
During sessions, different exposure methods are used to purposefully recreate anxious or feared thoughts, feelings, or physical sensations. By recreating the anxiety symptoms or feared thoughts in a controlled environment, individuals are able to practice managing the discomfort and working through the anxiety without seeking reassurance or engaging in compulsions, rituals, or avoidance. As individuals make progress, new situations and fears will be incorporated. In addition to in-session work, planned practice outside of sessions helps reinforce individuals’ ability to manage anxiety symptoms and promotes confidence. Over time, individuals prove their anxious thoughts wrong and gain a more accurate view of the actual danger the situations pose. The end result is the uncomfortable anxiety symptoms are seen as just that – uncomfortable – rather than a sign of impending panic attack or disaster. While ERP may seem scary, it is a safe and proven technique, which research has shown to be a powerful method to help a people overcome the worry and fears and live their best lives.
The treatment team at the OCD & Anxiety Center is not like Professor Gallagher from the Far Side cartoon! We are compassionate, creative human beings who are ready to assist you in developing a treatment plan that fits your needs and helps you achieve meaningful, long-lasting change. Call or email us today to schedule your first appointment with one of our specialists! (630) 522-3124; firstname.lastname@example.org