What is Exposure Response Prevention (ERP)?
Exposure response prevention is a technique used by therapists during cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It is especially beneficial as a treatment for OCD rituals. CBT is based on the premise that people's thoughts can influence their actions, and that changing their thoughts can in turn change their actions. Included in CBT are several techniques, such as cognitive restructuring and ERP.
So what exactly is ERP? ERP tackles disorders in which a person always reacts in an undesirable way in response to a specific trigger. The use of exposure response prevention for OCD helps the person with OCD respond to the trigger in a different way, with a decreased sense of anxiety.
How does this work? In general, the therapist simply places the person with OCD in a situation with the trigger - a less intense version of the trigger, if possible - and encourages the person with OCD to resist giving in to the compulsions or rituals that would usually follow. Because the trigger is weak and the set-up feels less real than usual, this ERP step allows the person with OCD to feel more in control.
When they do not give in to the trigger by completing a ritual, it creates a sense of success. Perhaps more importantly, it lessens the person's anxiety when faced with the trigger, because they have seen that they can overcome their need to react to it.