What Is Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy?

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy is a Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) that is the most effective type of therapy for treating OCD. ERP gradually exposes people to situations designed to provoke a person’s obsessions in a safe environment.

The therapist guides the process in the beginning and helps the client to eventually be able to conduct their own ERP exercises to manage their symptoms. The 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 making a choice not to do a compulsive behavior once the anxiety or obsessions have been “triggered.”

Who Will Find ERP Therapy Most Helpful?

ERP is almost exclusively used to treat people who have OCD. Several common signs of OCD include:

  • An extreme fear of being contaminated by germs, dirt, or other potential pathogens
  • An extreme fear of losing control of oneself and harming either oneself or others
  • Intrusive thoughts that keep entering the mind, causing disruption to sleep habits and daily routines
  • An excessive focus on moral or religious ideals
  • A generalized fear of losing or not having certain things that might be required

It is important to know that these obsessions can lead to extreme, compulsive behaviors that will disrupt the person’s overall quality of life.

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. This natural drop in anxiety that happens when you stay “exposed” and “prevent” the compulsive “response” is called habituation.

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