The goal of ERP therapy is to support an individual to confront their fears and reduce anxiety by gradually exposing themself to situations, people, places or objects that trigger anxiety or compulsions, while at the same time preventing the individual from engaging in their usual compulsive behaviours. For example, if an individual avoids going outside, the therapist and individual both can agree on step-by-step goals to face anxiety whilst dropping unhelpful coping behaviours and challenging negative thinking patterns and beliefs associated with this fear. If someone has a fear of harming others and compulsively tries to get rid of thoughts by washing their hands, the Psychotherapist may start by asking the individual to write down the distressing thought and to shake hands with someone without washing their hands immediately afterwards. Over time, the therapist and individual may agree together to gradually increase the level of exposure, such as having the in-person touch more and more objects or spend longer periods of time without washing their hands whilst having the thought in mind.
The response prevention aspect of ERP therapy involves preventing the in-person from engaging in their usual compulsive or avoidant behaviours, even when they are experiencing anxiety. This is because the compulsive behaviours reinforce anxiety and make it worse over time, increasing the individual’s preoccupation with what they fear. By preventing the individual from engaging in their compulsions, the Psychotherapist helps them learn that their anxiety will eventually decrease on its own, without the need for the compulsive behaviour. The individual’s tolerance increases, so previous situations faced, no longer feel so anxiety provoking.
Why use ERP?
ERP therapy can be challenging and will cause temporary discomfort or anxiety, but research has shown that it is highly effective for treating anxiety disorders. In typical treatment, ERP therapy is combined with other forms of therapy to provide comprehensive treatment for the presenting issues. ERP is a necessary part of successfully treating numerous disorders.
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