Chuck and I give talks to community groups or organizations like NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill). It’s one way we like to give back to the community. Just last week, we gave a talk on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). After describing the many different symptoms of OCD, we asked the audience, a group very familiar with mental health treatment, the following question. “How many of you have heard of Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) as a treatment for OCD?”
In the entire audience, only two people raised their hand. You’d almost think that ERP was a new miraculous treatment that just hit the scene. Every time we encounter a sea of blank faces (which is frequently), we are astonished. Why are we surprised? Because Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) has been shown repeatedly to be a highly effective treatment for OCD. And it’s been around for about 40 years. So, why do so few in the public know about this treatment that consistently decreases symptoms and sometimes even cures such a debilitating condition?
Here are a few thoughts:
Not all therapists are trained in providing this type of treatment. Since this evidence-based practice has been extensively studied and found to be effective, it’s pretty amazing that all graduate schools in counseling, psychology, and social work do not teach this technique. In addition, we believe that medical education should also include information about this form of treatment since primary care doctors and psychiatrists often have patients with OCD.
Some therapists think that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), of which ERP is one type, is too simplistic and results in decreasing symptoms but does not address the underlying cause. This debate has been waged for about a half a century. However, the studies that show actual brain changes in the people who have been treated with ERP should be sufficient to banish those fears. Furthermore, the people who have gone through treatment and now lead happier, more meaningful lives without crushing OCD symptoms attest to the life changing benefits of CBT.
ERP can be difficult to sell to clients who want to avoid what they fear. Because of that, there tends to be lots of people who start ERP and don’t follow through. Some people are just not ready. However, there are many strategies that therapists can use in order to slow down and gradually introduce the techniques at a tolerable pace.
So, if you or someone you care about has OCD, realize that there are proven techniques that work. Please make sure that you check out whether or not your treatment plan involves exposure and response prevention. The treatment may not seem glamorous and it’s sometimes pretty tough. But the rewards can be outstanding. Good luck and take care.