Conquering POCD- Using ERP to Treat OCD Fears of Attraction to Children

POCD or Pedophilia OCD is a subtype of OCD where the person experiences distressing intrusive and unwanted thoughts or fears that they might become or currently are sexually attracted to children. Although the person actually does not want to cause any harm, and may actually value working with or spending time with children, they feel helpless and scared about their thoughts. The fear of being labeled as a pedophile or being ostracized by society often adds to the distress. However, just like other types of OCD, POCD can be treated effectively with exposure and response prevention (ERP). Below, I discuss what POCD is, how it is different from pedophilia, and how ERP can help people claim back their lives.


What is POCD and How is it Different from Pedophilia?

POCD is a subtype of OCD that is characterized by unwanted, intrusive, and distressing thoughts or fears about being or becoming attracted to children. People with this theme typically exhibit a range of compulsions related to their distressing thoughts such as avoidance of places where children may be, neutralizing their scary thoughts with “pure” or “neutral” thoughts, or excessive research online related to pedophilia or sexual attraction. That being said, it is extremely important to understand that POCD is not the same as pedophilia. Pedophilia is a clinical diagnosis that refers to a persistent sexual attraction to children. In contrast, POCD is an unwanted and distressing symptom of OCD that has no relation to one's actual sexual preferences.

How Can ERP Help Treat POCD?

ERP is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that has proven to be the gold standard in treating OCD, including POCD. It involves gradually exposing the person to the feared stimuli (in this case, thoughts, images, or situations related to children) and preventing the compulsive behaviors associated with these thoughts. Exposures in session will be related to getting the client to live a life they value despite intrusive thoughts.

What are the Benefits of ERP for POCD?

ERP has several advantages in treating POCD. One, it helps individuals confront and gain control over their intrusive thoughts and related compulsions, which can be extremely distressing and disruptive to daily life. Two, it empowers individuals to face their fears in a gradual way, helping them build confidence and resilience. Three, it helps to increase self-esteem and self-worth, reducing shame and guilt.. Four, ERP is customized to suit individual needs and can be combined with other treatment approaches, such as medication and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It is important to note that in ERP clients will have more success in treatment when actively practicing the skills learned in therapy when they are outside of the therapy room. 

For more information, see NOCD's website.

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