My primary method of treating anxiety disorders, OCD, and related mental health disorders is exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP). ERP is successful and oftentimes very quick at treating a variety of disorders. It relies heavily on our scientific knowledge concerning the parts of the brain that elicit fear responses, and how a person chooses to respond to that fear. Due to the nature of this treatment, it is not unusual for a person to experience some discomfort as part of the process.
The two components of ERP are:
1) Exposure: through a variety of means, the client intentionally exposes themselves to a feared stimuli or a stimuli that provokes anxiety (which can be something as simple as a reoccurring thought)
2) Response prevention: the client allows themselves to feel the anxiety surrounding the feared stimuli and does not allow themselves to escape the feared stimuli or calm those feelings.
Through active participation in treatment and with the help of the therapist, the client’s anxious feelings or fear responses (a product of neurophysiological mechanisms) decrease naturally as they become accustomed to being in the presence of the stimuli. The main reason this treatment is effective is because a heightened fear response cannot be maintained forever in the presence of a feared stimuli, as long as a person doesn’t attempt to decrease their discomfort during the exposure exercises. Additionally, any discomfort experienced is tolerable because it is broken down into manageable steps.
The Eiffel Tower offers a good way of understanding the ERP process. It is impossible for a person to go right from the base of the tower to the top level without any steps in between, just as it seems impossible for a person to face their worst fears head on without completing any easier challenges first. If you wanted to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but were afraid of heights, an effective way of making that happen would be to break down the process of getting to the top into as many steps as necessary in order to make it manageable. Each new step would only be taken after mastering the previous step. If you are motivated to make big changes in your life and stop living in the shadows of your worries and fears, this type of treatment can help you attain what currently may seem impossible. In addition to ERP, other forms of cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness practices, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) may be incorporated into treatment.
Exposure and Response Prevention
*Note: The following is a slightly technical explanation. There is no need to fully understand the process going into treatment, but it is offered for those who are interested.