Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy
Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is based on the belief that exposing a person to something they fear (or are anxious about) over and over in a safe and controlled environment, will help decrease their anxiety over time. ERP includes 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.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) forms the general basis for ERP. With CBT, clients learn to change their thinking patterns and therefore their actions. With ERP therapy, clients face their fears and anxieties to change their reactions to them.
Overview of ERP Therapy
What ERP Therapy Can Treat
ERP is effective in treating eating disorders as well as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). For example, a client 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 up 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 no longer performs certain rituals.
When it’s not possible to present a real situation that creates anxiety, therapists can substitute sound or visual effects to mimic it, so clients feel similar anxiety from the simulation. It’s vital that clients work with therapists with skill in and experience with ERP therapy. Our professionals understand that ERP therapy needs to be controlled and safe, so they present easier challenges first and work their way to more difficult issues. In time, clients are so used to the stimulus that it no longer has the same (negative) effect on them.