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What is Exposure Response Prevention?

What is Exposure Response Prevention (ERP)?

This is a behavioral technique used to treat anxiety, OCD and other related disorders. Simply put it involves doing the thing that’s being avoided or the situation you fear. It may sound scary at first, but it is done with the guidance and expertise of a therapist.

It works like this: You purposely engage in the thoughts, mental images or situations that cause anxiety. While doing this, you then choose not to engage in the response that you normally would to take away the anxious feelings. For example, someone who has contamination fears may feel the need to wash their hands 10 times after they touched a doorknob. During an exposure they would touch the doorknob and make the choice to only wash their hands 7 times. During repeated exposures the person would continue to reduce the amount of handwashing.  The goal of all this is to reduce the anxiety levels by not giving in to the compulsions.

This isn’t just being told to go face your fears, a therapist will help you develop a hierarchy of fears or a list of behaviors to tackle. You will work together on this and do some exposures at home as well. ERP is not meant to put you in danger and it’s important to speak up and tell your therapist if you feel an exposure is causing extreme stress. Remember though, you will feel some anxiety during the exposures, you are doing the thing you’ve been avoiding after all!  But after repeated times, the anxiety levels will drop.

(Source: International OCD Foundation)

About the Author

Jill Patano, LCPC is a therapist at our Edison Park location. Jill works with adults. Jill’s specialties include anxiety, OCD, panic and phobias, stress management, perfectionism, CBT, ERP, coping skills, and life transitions. If you are interested in working with Jill, send an email today!