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It pretty impressive how many ways we have to avoid things that make us anxious (staying away from, doing actions to prevent, trying to think “about something else”, controlling others…). It’s only natural to avoid what we think is dangerous or uncomfortable. But sometimes, our fears become distorted, cutting us off from family, relationships, work. Therefore, they need to be overcome for us to live well. If we avoid any situation that causes our anxiety to rise, we not only cut ourselves (and maybe others) off from life, we can increase our fear. This can lead to a vicious cycle of more avoidance and more fear. The more we avoid something, the more we fear it.

ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention) is a proven and preferred method of treatment for anxiety disorders such as OCD, panic, and many others. Some people think that exposure therapy (ERP) is about just “throwing a person” into something they fear. But, this is not true. Yes, it has the element of facing our fears by exposing us to the situations, thoughts or feelings that make us anxious. However, everything that is done is actually decided and agreed upon by you. ERP is a, gradual, step-by-step process in which you decide your challenges, and does not “force” anything.

Together, you and your therapist work out a program of how to face your fears (exposure) and stop the thoughts, rituals, and other compulsive actions that have been reinforcing them (response prevention). In fact, ERP won’t have lasting benefit without your choice. It takes a skilled practitioner in ERP to help you build courage and challenge you to (but not “make you”) face your feared situation, thought, or feeling and decrease your avoidance behaviors.

Erin Loken is a skilled practitioner in ERP, having received specialized training from UCLA and the International OCD Foundation. She has been successfully administering this treatment for over a decade with adults and children who suffer from OCD and panic.

Making a choice to not let our anxiety rule our lives and the people we care about is the key step to overcoming it.