OCD A to Z: E is For Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy(ERP)
When I first realized I had OCD, about 7 or 8 years ago, I joined the International OCD Foundation and started receiving their newsletter. As much as I learned from the excellent articles, I assumed that Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy(ERP) wouldn't work for mental obsessions, things happening in my head. Thoughts seem like the substance of our minds, unmovable. Another E word that came to mind was "endless," as a way to describe the thoughts that hang on like thistles on your socks after a hike.
But ERP does work as a treatment for mental obsessions, Pure O, intrusive thoughts. I am so much better than I was before I started ERP 4 years ago. Yes, at first it seemed like trying to see through muddy water, and having an experienced Exposure therapist helped me get far enough away to see the patterns and processes of the OCD.
In a nutshell, ERP is exposing yourself to a thought you don't want to have, or situations that evoke that thought, and then preventing yourself from responding with compulsions in order to make your anxiety go away. So if I have the thought that the ache in my side is appendicitis, which strikes fear into my heart, because I need to know for sure, and right now, an exposure could be saying "Yes, I may have appendicitis. I don't know for sure," and response prevention could be staying off google, not researching the symptoms, or calling my doctor, or going to the emergency room, or poking at my side to see if it still aches. And the ultimate result will be less sensitivity to that thought, an ability to let it float in and out, and continue on with my life.
I encourage anyone who suffers from mental obsessions to seek out an ERP therapist. Check the IOCDF's list of therapists, and also their list of OCD support groups. And read Jonathan Grayson's Freedom from OCD. He published some articles in the IOCDF newsletter about obsessing about obsessing which finally led me to seek help for my OCD.