Research suggests the most effective treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety disorders are exposure-based interventions. Exposure can be a loaded word for many individuals, initially increasing feelings of anxiety and maybe even trepidation about therapy.
It makes sense that our brains want to protect us from feeling distress, and the initial reaction to doing an exposure is to have the urge to run away or say, “Hey, Melissa, do you really know what you’re talking about?”
Yes, exposures are a way to change someone relates to the experience of anxiety; not to eliminate the emotional experience. Many individuals with anxiety tend to avoid feared thoughts and situations, which further reinforces that these events should be scary or dangerous. However, when we lean in and face the fear, our brains start to learn a new message, that it is safe and tolerable to allow that feared thought or to participate in the feared situation.
How exactly do I do these exposures and get the most out of them?
The most important factor in exposures is willingness. Willingness is the choice to put effort into feeling and experiencing. This means accepting and feeling the emotions of anxiety, uncertainty, and other unknown experiences that may occur. It can be helpful to have an open and curious mind about the exposure, which can lead to letting go of the struggle. Often the struggle against the feeling of fighting against thoughts is what often exacerbates the severity of anxiety and OCD.
Exposures are successful when people are able to learn that it is possible to live with discomfort rather than to fight against the feeling. When someone learns how to let go of control and accept that emotions and thoughts come and go, they can experience the freeing feeling of letting go of the struggle.
If you're struggling with OCD, please feel free to contact me. I am a specialist in treating OCD and related disorders, anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and body-focused repetitive behaviors. I also have expertise in providing evidence-based treatments, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure and response prevention (ERP), and habit reversal therapy (HRT).