What Exposure and Response Prevention Can Treat
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, forms the general basis for exposure and response prevention. In CBT, clients learn to change their thinking patterns and therefore their actions. In ERP, clients face their fears and anxieties in order to change their reactions to them.
How does exposure and response prevention work in treating OCD? Say someone has an aversion to germs. She obsessively washes her hands any time she touches something that she feels is dirty. In ERP therapy, she’ll touch something dirty, but won’t be able to wash up afterward.
By not being allowed to do what she would typically do, the therapist prevents her from taking flight as part of the body’s natural “fight or flight” response. With prolonged and repeated exposure, her reactions and anxiety will gradually diminish. This process is called “habituation,” when she learns that nothing bad occurs if she no longer performs certain rituals.
Other disorders that ERP is used to treat include:
When it’s not possible to present a real situation that creates anxiety, therapists can substitute sound or visual effects to mimic it. Clients will feel similar anxiety from the simulation.
It’s vital that clients work with therapists with skill and experience in this type of therapy. The right professionals understand that exposure and response prevention therapy needs to be controlled and safe. They’ll present easier challenges first and work their way to more difficult issues.
In time, clients are so used to the stimulus that it no longer has the same (negative) effect on them.