Therapy is an incredibly individual experience, which means it’s hard to make universal statements that apply to every single person undergoing therapy. While you might have some similarities in your therapy journey versus someone else’s, for the most part it’s going to depend on your unique background, your provider and your therapy process.
The same is true for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) going through exposure and response prevention therapy, or ERP, the most effective form of cognitive behavioral therapy for OCD. Some people experience benefits and changes in a matter of weeks after starting ERP. For others, it can take months to really see impact. Neither is better or worse; it’s just a matter of individual experience, patient need and severity of symptoms.
However, if you’re looking to get a better understanding of how ERP works and how long you can expect to be in ERP therapy, here’s what you need to know.
ERP was specifically developed in order to treat OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and phobias. This type of therapy was invented with the purpose of helping people identify and cope with triggers to gain more control and freedom in their lives. During ERP, those with OCD are exposed to potentially triggering situations to provoke their obsessive thoughts and work on stopping their compulsive responses in a safe and controlled environment.
It can be an uncomfortable process at first, but ERP is the gold standard of OCD treatment for a reason. Based on research, it’s proven to be the most effective behavioral treatment for OCD. In studies conducted across the world, a majority of patients with OCD saw clear improvements in their symptoms across the board, meaning that ERP is proven to help people gain more control over their compulsions. However, treatment may take some time.
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The truth is that the length of ERP therapy, like all therapy, can greatly vary from person to person. It depends highly on the severity of your symptoms, as well as on the subtype of OCD that you might be experiencing. On average, people need somewhere between 12 to 20 sessions of ERP to start seeing marked improvements, but that number still varies depending on a multitude of factors.
Many psychologists don’t use the word “cure” because there is not currently a guaranteed cure for OCD, but there are many effective treatments that have been scientifically proven to drastically improve the lives of those with OCD — and ERP is the best of these treatments. Some people go through one round of ERP and experience very few OCD symptoms afterward. Others may have to complete multiple rounds of ERP therapy before they see true improvement.
In some cases, it’s possible that ERP therapy may be a lifelong commitment. As time goes on, however, most people with OCD find that managing their symptoms gets easier with proper care and management techniques. Eventually, OCD symptoms may even become “background noise.” The intrusive thoughts or compulsions may still pop up every now and then, but people who have gone through — or are still going through — ERP therapy tend to be able to control their reactions to triggers by ignoring this background noise.
Without a concrete timeline or outcome of your ERP therapy, some people with OCD may wonder whether or not ERP is worth the time and effort they might have to put into it. The short answer is yes, absolutely.
However, the reasoning is a little more complicated. Like most things, it can take some time to dive into ERP and start seeing the results of all of your hard work. However, once you start employing the tools and techniques you learn in therapy, it can be life-changing.
Remember, ERP therapy allows those with OCD to learn methods and practices that they can bring into their day-to-day lives to decrease the impact of their compulsions. Even if it doesn’t work for someone right away, it’s important that people give themselves time to practice, learn and implement response prevention. It requires a trained specialist who studied to learn the techniques and treatments to help those with OCD improve their lives — so it’s understandable that people starting ERP therapy won’t typically be able to understand all the methods and pick it all up in one session.
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If you or someone you’re close to is working through ERP therapy, try to remind yourself to be patient. It’s a process, just like anything else. If you wanted to be a bodybuilder, you wouldn’t go to the gym one day a week, pick up one weight and call it a day. You would put in the time to slowly increase your muscle mass with regular workouts over time. It’s the same with ERP therapy. The time it takes may vary from person to person, but it’s worth it. Over time, you’ll begin to see improvements so you can start living your life with more freedom from compulsions.
If you are interested in getting help please know that NOCD is here for you. A 15-minute call with our team can tell you what you need to know about getting OCD therapy started and taking the important next steps to feel better.