Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy

What is exposure and response prevention therapy?

Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERPT) is a way to change behaviors that are caused by feelings. ERPT helps you deal with your feelings by exposing you to something that upsets you and practicing new ways of responding. You learn ways to relax, such as breathing exercises. Over time, you are able to stay relaxed when you are exposed to something that used to upset you.

When is it used?

ERPT can help with:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Phobias
  • Eating disorders
  • Drug and alcohol abuse

What happens during a therapy session?

The therapist will ask you questions about how often the problem happens, how severe your reaction is, how long it lasts, and what seems to cause it. The therapist will work with you to set goals and develop a treatment plan.

If you have OCD, for example, you may wash your hands all the time because you are afraid of being dirty. The ERP therapist might have you touch something dirty such as a doorknob. Then the two of you might stand at the sink without washing hands until the anxiety goes away. You learn new ways to control your anxiety, like doing breathing exercises.

ERPT often takes 20 or more sessions to be effective.

How can I find a therapist?

Trained mental health specialists provide ERPT. Ask the therapist if they know ERPT when you make the first appointment. To find a therapist, check with:

  • Your healthcare provider
  • Your clergyman, school teachers, or school counselors
  • Friends or family members who have been in therapy
  • Your health insurance company
  • Your employee assistance program (EAP) at work
  • Local mental health or human service agencies
  • Professional associations of psychologists, psychiatrists, or counselors
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-06-09
Last reviewed: 2014-04-03
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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