Exposure Therapy: You want me to do what?

A year ago, I realized that my OCD was starting to have a negative effect on my life. And by that, I mean I was miserable and I was making everyone around me miserable too. I truly believe that a majority of people have some OCD-like tendencies, but I was to the point where I was having trouble leaving the house or doing simple things like taking a walk or going to the store.

Do you know how gross supermarkets are? How many people have touched those shopping carts, handles to the milk freezers, or even worse the buttons on the credit card machines? With my luck the person before me probably picked their nose with one hand, while scratching their butt with the other, right before touching every single one of the buttons. Gah- Gross.

They sometimes have Clorox wipes at the front of the store, by the carts, but shouldn’t they have them near the check-out too?..and maybe in every aisle? It is only logical in my opinion. I bring my own, you should too. Just saying…

Anyways..off topic. So, when I realized how difficult it was becoming for me to do the most simple tasks, I started exploring treatment options for my OCD. I wanted to do something before my friends and family started avoiding my calls and only agreeing to see me on holidays.

The first type of treatment I researched was Exposure Therapy or Exposure and Response Prevention. “In ERP, the patient is repeatedly exposed to his [her] fears, while being denied the opportunity to engage in any safety behaviors (compulsions) that normally would alleviate the patient’s anxiety regarding exposure to those fears.”

Are they kidding? Maybe in a magical world where the things you are afraid of could never cause you any actual harm. Real life – I don’t think so. Below are some examples:

1. Fear: Contamination. Exposure– putting your hand in the trash bin or touching the back of a urinal. Response (my response that is)  Are you kidding? That is like asking a normal person to eat their own poop. I mean dogs do it, but they are dogs. You couldn’t pay me to do that. Not now, not ever. I can barely use public restrooms. I’ve gone 14 hours before without going to the bathroom just to avoid them.  Sure, it could be harmless. The trash might be filled with paper towels and coffee cups, but it could also be filled with hypodermic needles, bloodied tissues and the occasional baby diaper. Now, is that a risk you’d be willing to take? Not to mention, the ERP therapy would want you to continue on with your day without washing your hands (100 times, soap for 30 seconds, scalding water for 30 seconds, dry and repeat – for me at least)… just to show you that you’d be fine. No thanks.

2. Fear: Forgetting to do something that could cause harm to myself or someone else (ex: leaving the door unlocked, dryer on, and straightener plugged in). Exposure: Doing one or all of these things when leaving the house. Response: The ERP therapy would want you to do one of these things and leave for work. The goal of this exercise is to show you that everything will be fine when you get back home, therefore decreasing your anxiety…right.

I’m sorry but this is just asking for your house to be robbed and if not robbed, burned to the ground by the dryer exploding or hair straightener bursting into unexplained flames.  I’m 99.9% sure that if I did these things, everything would be absolutely hunky-dory. However, OCD is all about doubt and the “what-ifs.” So, let’s say I try to leave the dryer on while I go to work. My mind will immediately go to the entire house burning to the ground and me coming home to a pile of charred mess and debris. Of course, Isis (our big dog) would carry Lexy (our small dog) to safety, but everything else…gone.

This fear started young. When I was eleven, I used to pack my hamster, “Cuddles,” yes that was his name (his brother’s name was “Fluffy”- what can I say, I was a pretty creative kid), in his travel-carrier so I could grab him in the middle of the night if our house caught fire. I did this for a year, 365 days, the house never caught fire…but if it had, I would have been a hero and Cuddles would have lived a long and happy life… did I mention he escaped his cage the following year and got trapped in the heater in my room and died. Sigh, poor Cuddles.

In addition to obsessive compulsive disorder, ERP can also be used for some forms of substance abuse/addiction. For example:

  1. Pouring a drink in order to help someone stop drinking.
  2. Rolling a joint to kick a pot habit.
  3. Laying out a few lines of cocaine to overcome the desire to snort it.

I’m sorry, but isn’t this like dangling cheese in front of a mouse? Or locking me in a Shopping Mall and asking me not to shop? I just don’t see how it can work, but I’m glad it does for some people. For now, I’ll continue trying to be “friendly” with my OCD and talking about it once a week with Dr. B…No garbage cans, urinals, public restrooms, needles, fire hazards and/or dead pets for this little lady.

You can however lock me in a shopping mall… that might work…maybe.


5 thoughts on “Exposure Therapy: You want me to do what?

  1. I’ve just found your blog, and really enjoy your writing and hearing what you have to say. I would just like to comment on ERP therapy, however, as it is definitely more complicated than your post makes it appear. You have mentioned extreme examples (putting hand in garbage for those who fear contamination) and a good therapist would NEVER start an OCD sufferer out with that exposure. You start small and work your way up. The reason I am even bringing this up is that I don’t want people to be scared away from ERP Therapy. It is the number one treatment for OCD and it works. My son was so debilitated by severe OCD that he could not even eat, and ERP not only literally saved his life, it helped him get his whole life back. He has just graduated college and has a wonderful life ahead of him. His OCD is now classified as mild………all because of ERP Therapy. Yes, it can be hard, even torturous at times, but not as torturous as living a life dictated by severe OCD.

  2. I’m so glad that ERP worked for your son. I am still working on that strategy along with other treatment methods. I know the issues I blog about are very extreme. I find OCD to be very painful/frustrating so I use this blog to lighten that a bit. The things I write about are actually incredibly difficult and cause me a lot of suffering, but writing about them is actually therapeutic! Again, so glad that your son is being successful at managing his OCD!!!

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