You probably have a few things throughout your day you’re particular about. Maybe you like things arranged a certain way on your dresser, or you brush your teeth every day at the same time. Almost everyone has certain practices or routines that they feel attached to. Unfortunately, some people joke about their preferences, incorrectly claiming that OCD is to blame.
In reality, OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a chronic, long-lasting, and often debilitating condition. People with OCD experience patterns of obsessions and compulsions that they must repeat over and over to avoid feeling extreme anxiety. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is much more serious than keeping things organized or feeling nervous about germs.
While there is no cure for obsessive-compulsive disorder, it’s possible to manage symptoms and relieve the resulting anxiety through treatment. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is one form of treatment used for individuals with OCD. So what is ERP for OCD, and how does it help people take back control and live happy, fulfilling lives?
What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, commonly known as OCD, is an anxiety disorder that affects a person’s thoughts and behaviors.1 Individuals with OCD experience recurrent and unwanted thoughts (“obsessions”) and repetitive behaviors (“compulsions”). Compulsions include a variety of behaviors, such as hand washing, cleaning, counting, or checking things (such as locks, stoves, lights, etc.).
Obsessions cause extreme anxiety and urge people to respond by acting out compulsions. Their intrusive thoughts insist that something bad will happen if they don’t carry out certain behaviors. However, compulsions only provide temporary relief from their obsession-induced anxiety. This process repeats over and over, creating an ever-worsening cycle of obsessions and compulsions, often until it affects a person’s ability to function.
What is ERP for OCD?
Clinicians treat OCD with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is typically the primary approach used to treat people with OCD. However, some do not respond to ordinary CBT and find more benefit from more specialized therapeutic approaches.
Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a specialized type of CBT for obsessive-compulsive disorder. It aims to break the cycle of obsessions and compulsions by teaching people to tolerate their distressing thoughts without relying on repetitive behaviors.2
In a safe, clinical environment, ERP gradually exposes people to experiences that trigger obsessions but don’t allow them to engage in their compulsions. Over time, clients learn that they’re safe from their imagined disasters even when they don’t follow their rituals. As a result, ERP increases distress tolerance and introduces alternative solutions for dealing with feelings of anxiety.
ERP for OCD is effective because people learn that their obsessions are not grounded in reality. Once they realize their recurrent thoughts aren’t true, the need to carry out their repetitive behaviors lessens. This enables them to reclaim power in their lives and navigate their days without constant obsessions and compulsions.
ERP at Lifeskills South Florida
Lifeskills South Florida is a treatment facility that provides ERP for OCD, as part of a wide range of services for individuals with mental health disorders. If you or a loved one struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder or another mental health condition, Lifeskills South Florida can help. Call us at 954-953-1742 to speak with an admissions specialist, learn more about the programs we offer, and find out which program is right for you.
- National Institute of Mental Health. (2022). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
- Indian Journal of Psychiatry. (2019). Exposure and response prevention for obsessive-compulsive disorder.