The Role of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Treating OCD

The Role of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Treating OCD

Team ERP Therapy

When it comes to treating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, commonly referred to as OCD, options were quite limited for many years. Both psychodynamic therapy and medications had been tried without much success, and many psychiatry and therapy professionals wrote about their problems effectively treating OCD patients. However, in 1966, that all changed. With the emergence of Exposure & Response Prevention Therapy (ERP), those professionals finally had an effective tool to use in the fight against OCD symptoms. 

What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a complex psychological condition that involves a cycle of obsessive, discomforting thoughts that lead to ritualistic behaviors as a way to ease the discomfort. These thoughts and resulting behaviors can severely disrupt the sufferer’s life, compromising their daily functioning, relationships with others, ability to work, and more. OCD is wide-reaching, affecting around 1.2% of the U.S. population, which was over 4 million people in 2023. While the obsessive thoughts and ritualistic behaviors of OCD are consistent throughout patients, what those thoughts are about or what behaviors result are quite different for different people. For example, one person may have obsessive thoughts about getting sick from germs in public places, leading to constant hand-washing as the comforting ritualistic behavior. Another person’s obsessive thoughts may be about their children being taken away if their house gets too dirty, so they clean constantly as a comforting behavior.

What is ERP?

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is a branch of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that has shown significant promise in the treatment of OCD. ERP involves exposing the patient to their OCD triggers, forcing them to think about the trigger, their feelings in response, and why they feel that way. The exposure to the trigger is usually lengthy…perhaps for an hour or two at a time…and no ritualistic behavior response is allowed during treatment. This forces the patient to see that their triggered fear is irrational, and that nothing bad will happen even if they don’t engage in ritualistic behaviors. This realization comes in part from the effects of habituation, which is the body’s natural tendency to become less anxious with prolonged, continuous exposure to a trigger. Exposure can be in-person (in vivo) or via visualization (imaginal), and the length of exposure is usually built up over time. ERP sessions are usually weekly for around 12 weeks, so it is considered a short-term treatment for acute issues. 

Effectiveness of ERP for OCD

ERP is considered the gold standard for OCD treatment since it was introduced in 1966. It has shown more success in OCD patients than any other treatment on its own, and can be even more powerful when combined with other treatments like medication therapy. Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of ERP for OCD treatment, including this 2022 study that showed improvement in 80% of patients and this 2010 study that showed much improvement in 60% of patients at follow-up and partial improvement in another 20% of patients. The 2022 study also confirmed that the combination of exposure and response prevention must be done concurrently…treating patients with just one method or the other led to inferior results. 

Frequently Asked Questions About OCD and EPR

Can ERP cure OCD?

While ERP is an amazing tool in the treatment of OCD, OCD is a chronic condition for which we currently have no cure. However, with expert help and personal dedication, OCD patients can significantly improve their quality of life and everyday functioning.

Is ERP suitable for everyone?

While ERP is highly effective for most OCD patients, it isn’t for everyone. Only a consultation with a qualified psychiatric or therapy professional will let you know if ERP is an appropriate treatment for your specific situation. Factors such as the severity of OCD symptoms, age, comorbid conditions, past treatment attempts, and more will go into the decision of whether or not to try ERP.

Get OCD Treatment in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts

If you’re suffering with OCD symptoms, you don’t have to fight alone. Patients in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts can lean on the psychiatric professionals at South County Psychiatry to guide them through their OCD treatment options, including ERP. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the office nearest to you or contact us online.