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Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy

For individuals that suffer from debilitating anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), their daily lives are likely extremely challenging. They may watch other people easily navigate their lives, wishing they could do the same. However, it may seem that even the simplest activities are unattainable. The good news is that treatment is within reach. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy allows individuals to embrace fuller, more vibrant lives.

ERP therapy, developed by British psychologist Victor Meyer in the mid-1960s, is based on the belief that exposing a person to something they fear (or are anxious about) over and over, will help decrease their anxiety over time. ERP consists of two parts, which take place at the same time: exposing a person to what they fear (exposure) and preventing them from reacting a certain way (response) because of that fear. In general, individuals feel a great deal of anxiety due to the stimuli.

Some trials have found ERP therapy to be as effective as medication in treating mental health disorders. In addition, the benefits of ERP therapy may last longer than a medication course. Effects of successful treatment can be present after treatment is over, but when a person stops taking medication, their symptoms will most likely return.

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy Components

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) forms the general basis for ERP. With CBT, clients learn to change their negative thoughts and therefore their behaviors. With ERP, clients face their fears and anxieties to change their reactions to them.

ERP therapy is effective in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). For example, an individual has an aversion to germs, so 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 her hands afterward. By not being allowed wash her hands, 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 can’t wash her hands.
Other disorders that ERP therapy is used to treat include:
    • Anxiety
    • Eating Disorders
    • Phobias
    • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
    • Substance Abuse
When it’s not possible to present a real situation that creates anxiety, therapists can substitute sounds or visual effects to mimic it, so individuals feel similar anxiety from the simulation. It’s vital that individuals work with therapists with expertise in and experience with ERP therapy. The right professionals understand that ERP therapy needs to be controlled and safe. They’ll present easier challenges first and work their way to more difficult issues. In time, individuals become so used to the stimulus that it no longer has the same negative affect on them.

Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy at Shoreline

Odyssey Behavioral Healthcare’s AVP of Clinical Services, Kate Fisch, LCSW, discusses ERP therapy at Shoreline.
At Shoreline, we also utilize other types of behavioral therapies based on each client’s needs and their individualized treatment plan, including:
To learn more about the eating disorder treatment programs at Shoreline, call us today at (562) 434-6007.
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