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The Power of ERP: Overcoming OCD through Exposure Response Prevention

The Power of ERP: Overcoming OCD through Exposure Response Prevention

Many of my clients often inquire about the meaning of ERP. Exposure and Response Prevention may sound formal and technical, but in simple terms, it is a behavioral process that brings order to the chaos of the OCD merry go round. It involves systematically confronting your obsessions while resisting the urge to engage in compulsive behaviors. ERP becomes even more effective when combined with various other skills and techniques.

ERP is the Gold Standard Treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

ERP has a 60-80% success rate for OCD

During therapy sessions, many clients express disbelief or a sense of incapability when it comes to stopping their compulsions. However, it is important to note that even individuals with severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder have achieved remarkable success with the ERP process, to the point where they no longer attend therapy.  The journey towards overcoming OCD begins with identifying the starting point for treatment.

Motivational Scripts

To kickstart the therapy process, it's important to explore why you've chosen to seek help. Are you committed to working on your OCD? What are the consequences of OCD in your life? It's crucial to identify your core values that can counteract your compulsive behaviors, as they serve as a constant reminder to keep you on track. Reflect on what OCD, especially your compulsions, has taken away from your life. Have your compulsions affected your loved ones or children? How much time and distress have your compulsions caused? Visualize what accepting uncertainty and engaging in ERP would look like for you. Motivational scripts are best crafted with the guidance of a trained therapist, so make sure to find the right one for you.


In the world of ERP, it is often beneficial to begin with smaller, less intense compulsions before progressing to more challenging ones. By starting with an easier obsession, individuals can build confidence and trust in the therapeutic process. This approach proves particularly effective for those who have multiple obsessions, allowing them to gradually work their way up and achieve success in overcoming OCD. This is done with an ERP heirarchy. 

ERP Hierarchy

To begin the ERP process, you and your therapist collaborate to establish an ERP hierarchy. This hierarchy entails compiling a comprehensive list of your obsessions, compulsions, and the levels of distress associated with abstaining from these compulsive behaviors. Once the hierarchy is established, each exposure is then approached gradually and systematically.

Inhibitory Learning

In the inhibitory learning model, you can begin by focusing on any obsession that causes anxiety. This allows you to be fully present in my office, in real time, while refraining from engaging in your compulsive behaviors. By doing so, you are teaching your brain to tolerate anxiety and sending it a different message about your fears. It's important to understand that OCD is a result of the unique functioning of an individual's brain, which means that the obsessions you experience today may change over time. Learning how to navigate this process, regardless of the trigger or content, is where true freedom from OCD is found.


Mindfulness serves as a powerful tool in the treatment of OCD, allowing individuals to confront their obsessions without giving in to their compulsions. By mindfully tracing the sensations in their body or riding the wave of the compulsive urge, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of their OCD and develop the ability to resist engaging in their compulsions. This practice of mindfulness not only helps individuals build resilience against their OCD, but also cultivates a sense of presence and self-awareness in the process.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Techniques) 

While Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) alone may not be effective in treating OCD, it can be a useful tool in interrupting and breaking free from compulsive patterns. Think of it as a wedge, opening the door for you to sit with your obsessions while abstaining from engaging in your compulsions. This approach allows you to challenge and confront your irrational thoughts without getting caught up in the cycle of compulsions. By incorporating CBT techniques alongside Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), you can enhance the effectiveness of your treatment and move closer to overcoming OCD.

Common Cognitive Distortions for OCD

Thought Action Fusion: Thinking because you thought it you must have done it.  

Black and white thinking: Things are all one way or all the other, no grey.

Catastrophizing: Thinking of the worst case scenario.  

Magical Thinking: Linking rituals to changing outcomes in life.  

Is Your Therapist Experienced in Treating OCD?

It is crucial to ensure that your therapist has the necessary expertise in treating OCD as seeking reassurance from a therapist can hinder your progress in overcoming compulsions. Since many individuals with OCD also experience anxiety, it is essential to have a therapist who is knowledgeable in treating both conditions. This expertise is vital for your success in dealing with these debilitating disorders. If you are ready to break free from OCD, ERP is the solution for you!


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